tehranbureau An independent source of news on Iran and the Iranian diaspora

Life Goes on in Tehran

05 Jun 2010 20:1013 Comments

We were delighted to see one of our favorite blogs, LifeGoesoninTehran.com, back up and running this month. Since the June election last year, it had come to a virtual halt (July, August), with all but a sputter of activity since August, including a four-month blackout.

Two stills from last month offer a bit of reportage. More here.


At a friend's birthday party. Parties are again prone to being broken up by the moral police and therefore more dangerous than before as you can be arrested for attending them. As part of the new campaign to save "Hijab and Chastity" the moral police is back on the streets enforcing their Talibanesque Islamic codes. They are made up of three units: 1. Make-up Unit (fighting nail polish, lipstick, tan); 2. Relationship Unit (fighting premarital relationships. They can lock up your car for as long as two months and fine you as much as $2,000 if you're caught with your girlfriend!); 3. Hijab Unit (enforcing Islamic dress code on both men and women). Of course all this has nothing to do with Islam, and everything to do with oppression for the sake of reminding everyone who is in power. And rest assured that the youth continue to revolt and disobey!


A playground at a local park in Saadat Abad. Tehran's mayor has been very active in recent months. You can't help but to notice his many projects around Tehran who are designed to draw attention to themselves -- be it paintings, murals, new pavement, new parks, playgrounds or new shopping centers and museums. As the Iranian saying goes, he's doing "khod shirini" -- making himself appear sweet! So one might argue all this is not without reason. He could be setting himself up to be the next President of Iran. On a side note, the cable running down the photo above belongs to a neighbor's satellite dish. You see these loose cables everywhere around Iran. According to a satellite-man, they serve as warrants for the government to get in your house (satellites being illegal)!

Copyright © 2010 LGOIT.com

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Pretty pictures are misleading. I went back to live in Tehran after more than 25 years in the US & EU and stayed for nearly a year. I still go back to stay for a month or two, but I have a very different perspective.

Life goes on everywhere, even in the most horrible places imaginable. Mayor of Tehran, like the photos in this blog, is only interested in appearances.

The Islamic Regime removed restrictions on building zones when it came to power and when it eventually put some regulations in place to limit the number of levels in building, it allowed offenders to buy them.

The result is a city where high rises and multilevel apartment buildings have grown like mushrooms everywhere. Even houses on tiny little allies of 30 years ago are demolished and converted to 7 story apartments.

Horrendous traffic jams, extreme air pollution and undrinkable water are the norms. Crimes ranging from theft of personal belongings to any kind of imaginable fraud are rampant. Prostitution and drugs dwarf Latin America and South West Asian capitals.

All and all it is as bad as it gets. Tehran is a miserable place where nearly 14 million people are cramped into an area where there should be only 4 million, given the geography and the climate.

Even for the small percentage of SHEM-IRANI elites in North Tehran, life is getting harder and more disgusting everyday. They too have to breath the same air and drive the same streets with their $100K+ imported cars!

Babak Irani / June 5, 2010 11:17 PM

babak is right. this is a nice blog but the real question is where does 'quality of life' in tehran go? to the dogs, more and more every day.

Yamout / June 6, 2010 1:41 AM

Babak and Yamout,

As a long time resident of Tehran, I respectfully disagree. What makes LGOIT a beautiful blog is exactly that DESPITE all the statistics you cite, and all the bad experiences you bring up, life and art and music and literature and laughter DO go on in Tehran still. I can name as many good experiences living in that old, tired city as bad ones.

No matter how horrendous the traffic, the moment that jolly man gets in the taxi with you and offers his barbari bread ... moments like that are simply priceless and abundant if you look for them.

Statistics is something we have access to anywhere we may be, but those kind of experiences are only specific to those of us not only living in Tehran, but also willing to roam it like nomads to discover all the wonderful things it has to offer - despite the cruelty and bitterness and anger.

I've noticed that after the election, a lot of Iranians outside Iran like to simply write off Iran as unlivable (this has always been the case, but I notice it more even after the election) ... and if you look at statistics alone, that may very well be the case. I think that coaxes them into believing that all hell will break lose any minute and the country will fall apart. That comforts them, b/c they think it falling apart is necessary to get it back together while forgetting all the lives that will fall apart in the process ... leagues more than have withered until today.

But people living inside still manage to live, study, give birth, fall in love, eat sumptuous Iranian food, etc, etc ... I think from afar, we may forget that sometimes, and a space like Life Goes on in Tehran is a good reminder ...

Pedestrian / June 6, 2010 3:21 AM

I was there in 1994 to 1996, the old charm has gone. It is a mad house the Islamic government and war has changed people tremendously. The youth were mostly depressed.
Life goes on but how?

gooya / June 6, 2010 7:34 AM

Get off your righteous high horse Ped. You are not the only English-speaking (duel-national??) Iranian living in Tehran. I do too, have for years. And you know what? Tehran has progressively degenerated. In terms of inflation and cost of living. In terms of green space. In terms of air quality -to the point that it has significantly reduced longevity. Go check your precious Press TV on infertility rates in Tehran. Young cancer and heart/lung disease. In terms of depression and drug addiction. In terms of overdoses and suicides. In terms of crime. In terms of rule of law. In terms of public ethics.

Do you want more statistics?

Yes, there are bursts of Iranian "goodness" that come through the dismal progressive degeneration. Like a lone red shaghayegh growing on a mound of dust.

But is this the best Tehran can be? You, as a resident -does "life go on in terhan" as you wish it would? Maybe being complacently content about crappiness is another Tehran syndrome. And yes, living long-term in a city like that changes us all.

to pedestrian / June 6, 2010 12:27 PM

Tehran is giant city, with all the attractions, advantages and disadvantages of a grand city. I lived in Tehran, London and NYC, travelled to Shanghai, Tokyo and Chennai, frankly, everywhere you see the similar struggle for life and similar joy of life... pollution, traffic, baggers, parties, ( underground/ over ground....) etc. Goodness ! Do you want to tell me that Tehran has a worse traffic than LA? As a citizen of Tehran ( up to couple of years ago) with current frequent visits, never being part of north Tehran elite( never lived north of Tohid square in Tehran) I agree with Pedestrian that this city is alive; the same way that people live any grand eastern cities in East... good or bad, I have more laugh and interaction with strangers in Tehran than in London where I live now....
For many Iranian lived abroad or grown up in western countries with a totally distorted nostalgia of mother land, I can imagine to get very disappointed to see current massive, dirty, noisy Tehran... nothing of the poetic, calm and beautiful capital that maybe your grandparents lived in, or yourself painted in your mind....but hey buddy that is the way that many of the large cities in East have become as a result of unmanaged, fast growth because of whatever reason!

to Babak & " To Pedestrian" / June 6, 2010 5:47 PM

"to pedestrian" If you are in Tehran I can suggest a good shrink to help you overcome this bitterness. NOBODY said that the current state of affairs is good or remotely the best Tehran can be. I just said that there's more than meets the eye and more goodness than people might initialy see ... Don't see what's so preposterous about that ... Take a chill pill and/or a horse tranquilizer before posting on forums.

Pedestrian / June 6, 2010 7:31 PM

Pedestrian is a 25 year old kid now, he doesn't know any better. I also moved back to my beloved Tehran during the Khatami era, and dismissed those cynics in the diaspora who complained about traffic, air pollution, mismanagement, etc. But when you try to raise a family there it's much different. You don't give a hoot that the cab driver makes a joke, your focus is your 9 your old daughter, forced to wear a hejab, who has developed asthma and whose eyes burn when she stays in the city too long. I promise you Pedestrian will look back at his comments on the blog years from now and realize he was, like all of us, young and misguided.

Lila Joon / June 7, 2010 5:45 PM

Like all big capitals in the world, it is crowded, fast-paced, and contains lots of people who talk about the "good old days". A lot of people, I am sure, have nostalgic memories of London, New York, etc. Even in Tehran, there are Tehranis, like other citizens of other capitals, complaining regularly how Tehran has been spoiled by all the non-Tehranis coming to Tehran.

But that's progress. The reason its 14 million population is because of the insane, fast-paced progress, the way the city has sprouted and fattened itself, providing work for millions more than it did decades ago.

You cant have both khoda and khorma.

M. Ali / June 7, 2010 6:17 PM

Lila, good one, but I was actually that 9 year old and I enjoyed myself in Tehran. And I wasn't even a part of the "shomal shahr" crowd at all. So if you want to insist that Tehran is a terrible place, you've still failed miserably.

Pedestrian / June 8, 2010 2:50 AM

I think folks who are criticizing Tehran haven't exactly looked at this website yet. The blogger has a good balance of focusing on the good and the bad. He's by no means making the argument that Tehran is a wonderful place to live in, but rather it's an often mis-represented city with its own set of problems. From my understanding he's actually pretty liberal-minded. He does criticize the pollution, the traffic, the mandatory hijab, lack of a social scene for the young, the government, etc. But he's also pointing out little details in daily life. Details that makes Iranians who haven't been to Iran lately miss it, while reminding Iranians fed up with Tehran that regardless, life goes on in Tehran...

Tehran Tehran / June 8, 2010 10:43 AM

Tehran is ugly. To understand that, walk out late at night, around 1 a.m. and take a long stroll. Buildings are horrendously ugly, there is not a single building that is worth a second glance. The old building attract you because they are old, not because they are architecturally interesting.

The ugliness is masked during the day by the mind-numbing hustle and bustle in the sidewalks, and helter-skelter in the streets.

Don't confuse dirtiness with ugliness. Luckily most streets are lined with trees which hide the buildings.

If you do take the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. tour, you will get nauseous from the urban ugliness. This is the test.

Other cities you don't want to see at night or when people are not out: London, Tokyo, most of Chicago, actually all cities in the US, except NYC, Boston, and San Francisco, Delhi, Bejing, Shanghai, Mashhad, most of Rome. These are from personal experience.

You want to see, especially at night, when empty, Florence, Paris, Esfahan, Shiraz, Boston, San Francisco, NYC (Manhattan). They have architecture that stand on their own, with or without people, and they have urban spaces made for looking at, as well as being in.

So, Tehran is not alone in ugliness. But, it is one of the few that will be 90% gone when the big one hits. That is the most scary part of it, more scary than itself late at night.

Anonymous / June 11, 2010 8:10 PM

I am a big fan of LGOIT photo blog. She takes the most wonderfuly original images and shares a rare point of view with us. I also agree with babak and others about the horrible results of Islamic Republic's mismanagement! Tehran is the last place you want to live and raise a family. It's crowded, polluted and now after the mismanaged building boom it is also opne of the ugliest capitals in the world! I get so sad every time I go there!

Farhad Rad / July 9, 2010 8:24 AM