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Powerful Entities Allowed To Build Apartment Towers In Tehran's Green Spaces

Entrance to Pessian gardens in Tehran where the owner built a luxury apartment building despite protests by environmental activists. 2014.

Several powerful organizations including a financial empire and a foundation under the aegis of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, got the go-ahead from the Tehran Municipality to build "garden towers" in the gardens in and around the Iranian capital; a project that would destroy at least one third of Tehran's rare and precious green areas.

The gardens are on private properties and a remnant of old, traditional houses, which were surrounded by park-like grounds.

While city council member Bahareh Arvin has called on Mayor Pirouz Hanachi to publish all the information about the project in the interest of transparency, investigative journalist Yashar Soltani, who has already served a prison term for revealing financial corruption at the municipality under a former mayor, has published the names of some of the powerful and wealthy organizations involved in the projects.

The scheme, which would cause tremendous damage to Tehran's ecosystem according to environmental experts, was put forward in 2003, when former ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the mayor of Tehran and conservatives controlled the city council.

According to Ms. Arvin, the project was shelved in March 2018 in order to protect Tehran's remaining gardens. In a letter to the mayor, Arvin asked for publication of information about garden towers projects since 2003 on the municipality's transparency website. A demand that has not been met yet.

Others also question why the decision about banning construction made in March 2018 was not published for one year. The suspicion is that city officials gave more time to well-connected people to complete some buildings.

Apartment complex built on restricted green space (gardens) in Tehran. Undated
Apartment complex built on restricted green space (gardens) in Tehran. Undated

In the meantime, investigative journalist Yashar Soltani revealed that some powerful organizations such as the Khamenei-linked Supreme Leader's Executive Headquarters, and Bonyad Mostazafan, are among the organizations that got the go-ahead to ruin the gardens and erect apartment blocks in a city where one fifth of Iran's population are gasping for fresh air.

Other organizations include Bank Saman, whose shareholders reportedly include former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, as well as the Iranian Insurance Company, the Arman Economic Group, several organizations linked to the Tehran Municipality and its staff members, and the Islamic Azad University which is linked to hardliners close to Khamenei.

According to Arvin, developers who built Tehran's current garden towers since 2003 have violated the standards mentioned in the 2003 approval. According to those standards, at least 70 percent of each garden should remain intact after development. Arvin says concrete and steel have devoured far more than 30 percent of Tehran's rare gardens.

According to the Young Journalists Club, a conservative dominated news source, some organizations paid hefty levies to the municipality to get the clearance for development by March 6. On the same day, the Tehran Municipality announced the names of 62 entities that have been authorized to go ahead with their garden tower projects. The names disclosed by Yashar Soltani, are only a dozen of those involved in the project that has met widespread protest on social media.

Twitter user Mahyar Bahadori published photos of some of the projects that have already been completed.

Another social media user reminded that millionaires build garden towers while a lot of people are soldiering on to earn a less than decent living.

Amir Seyedin wrote: "Remember the names of the council members who voted for the garden tower project. Remind of their signatures approving the developments in these 62 gardens whenever they say nice words again. We voted for them to protect the city, not to slaughter the city for the deals to build apartment blocks."

And Bahareh Musavi reminded that the go ahead to ruin the gardens was given ironically on the "tree planting day," asking "Isn't that beautiful?"