International Non-Governmental Organizations and Tehran’s Path to Becoming a Global City

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law & Political Science, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran

2 Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran


Expanding the external relations of a capital city will create opportunities for a country to internationalize and take advantage of the interactions with the state and non-state actors in the international system. Global cities today are the centers for the spread of different cultural and economic ideas; and they can  promote specific brands and  positive images of the countries to which they belong. The presence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the big cities would help the international diffusion  of the unique brand of that city. A non-governmental organization, which has no definite history of origin, is a concept that cannot be defined precisely, accurately, and comprehensively. Nevertheless, the undeniable fact is that the growth of these organizations and the gradual expansion of their role have been indicators of globalization. NGOs are increasingly becoming involved in providing assistance to governments to find solutions to  many problems ranging from economic decline to the rising threats to public health and other issues regarding socio-economic development at all levels.  It is assumed that the presence of international organizations in major cities can help countries to become more international. Today, a metropolis must have its own strategic document for internationalization aimed at encouraging transnational communication with different organizations. Tehran, as the capital of Iran and one of the largest and most modern cities in the Middle East, can be the center of international interactions between Iran and other countries; and considering its geostrategic location, it could eventually be the hub of the Middle East.
The main purpose of this study is to analyze the consequences of the expansion of the activities of international non-governmental organizations in Tehran for the transformation of this metropolis into a regional and international center. The key research questions are as follows: 1. What are the main advantages and disadvantages of encouraging more activities of international non-governmental organizations in the metropolis of Tehran?  2. How will the increase in these activities affect urban development in Tehran? To answer these questions, the method of qualitative content analysis is used to examine and explain the official documents related to Tehran’s international relations, the effects of interactions of international non-governmental organizations in the internationalization of the city of Tehran.  The research hypothesis illustrates the authors’ assertion that the activities of the international NGOs will increase Iran’s influence in the international system by facilitating international relations of Tehran at regional and global levels, and even the country’s bilateral and multilateral relations with other actors.
There were attempts to formulate and adopt a flexible and forward-looking strategy for the urban development of  Tehran based on dynamic documents, which would take into account changing environmental and social conditions of the city, particularly the rapid growth rate of the population. Urban development documents in Iran before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution have repeatedly emphasized the internationalization of Tehran through the presence and activities of international organizations. Farmanfarmaian Urban Development Plan (FUDP) was one of the first urban plans in Tehran, which was approved in 1966. For the most part, FUDP recommended  policies to regulate land-use in Tehran, elucidated some aspects of the internationalization of Abbasabad hills, and also determined the appropriate location of the international airport in Tehran. Pahlavi’s Shahestan plan was another pre-revolution attempt at city development in Iran and was meant to provide the groundwork for the globalization plan of Tehran which was the first such plan in the entire Middle East region. The first post-revolution urban development plan in Iran was approved in 2007. The long-term vision plan of Tehran municipality was designed in line with the country's 20-year Vision 2025 document, and aimed at turning Tehran into a global city by promoting activities of regional and international scope. The most important aspects of internationalization of this urban development plan of Tehran include: 1. Transforming Tehran into an information city (Iran's gateway to the information age); 2. Turning Tehran into a smart and global city with increasing share of modern economy; 3. Providing space, infrastructure and necessary communications in Tehran to promote the viability and activity of the city globally and regionally.
The city planners are aware that they must act swiftly to provide the basic services for the residents, and thus they are advised to rely on collaborations with the influential NGOs to confront the  common health, environmental and socio-economic crises, and more urgently deal with the adverse  impacts of climate change through formal and informal interactions. According to the vision document, by 2025 Tehran will be in a situation where 50% of its GDP will be allocated to knowledge-based economic activities. Tehran's advantages for internationalization include: 1. It has good infrastructure;     2. The city enjoys a valuable geostrategic location because Iran can be the center of regional activities for international organizations in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf; 3. Tehran can also act as a gateway for such activities in Southwest Asia and Central Asia; 4. Tehran is located in a country with relative stable and secure environment for the activities of these organizations in a region where many countries are subjected to internal security threats, wars and terrorism. In contrast, the disadvantages of internationalization of Tehran by relying on the NGOs activities are as follows: 1. The poor communication between Tehran and specialized UN agencies and other international organizations; 2. Lack of sufficient attention to scientific research in the field of international NGOs; 3. Weakness of local governments’ specific laws and regulations for urban diplomacy and international relations of Tehran; 4. Lack of national understanding and consensus about Tehran’s collaboration with international NGOs; 5. the clash between ideological orientation of the Islamic Republic and the capitalist value system; 6. Anti-Iran  sanctions aimed at its economic- political isolation. In their research findings, the authors explain the relationship between the activities of international non-governmental organizations in Tehran by helping to improve the level of Tehran's international relations at the regional and global levels, and expanding the Islamic Republic's foreign influence.



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