Tehran has been the capital of Iran for the last 200 years. As a capital of a developing country it has been changing drastically in the different eras specifically in the last 50 years. Different generations witnessed the transition of the old and traditional neighbourhoods into a modern city. Besides the regular pace with which the city was changing, 1979 revolution which led to an islamic republic government made a substantial modification to a once westernized city of Tehran. All the bars and clubs, alcohol stores were closed down due to the new regulations and all the streets names were changed to a more religious ones. For us, the generation born after the revolution connecting to our parents and their old days seems almost impossible as we don’t even share the same names for the neighbourhoods and the boulevards. This flow of change continued and the mansions with acres of garden which once belonged to the affluent families, some related to the monarchy, were all replaced by schools, institutes or simply residential towers.The population of the country doubled in less than 2 decades and the invasion of people from around the country to Tehran increased with a ridiculous rate.
When I was five years old I started to connect with the kids of my neighbourhood ,with whom I was at the same school. Some where from the old houses of our neighbourhood while some other like us were living in the new developments. As a kid we are all friends as long we know the same plays. So I never noticed any difference between the traditions and lifestyles. However, once I got older, I have started to realize the distance between the old residents and the new ones in the developing neighbourhoods, the connection between those who have lived for generations in an area with a certain ecosystem and those who have moved to a new neighbourhood with the new expectations.
My recent trip to Iran brought this observation into another level as the city is going through another massive change in the last couple of years. Our houses which 30 years ago were the new additions to an old neighbourhood were all demolished and replaced with some brand new super luxury condos. The clash between new comers and the old ones is more than ever and there are no rules or regulations to address the needs of those who have been living in these neighbourhoods for years.
I am back to Montreal and I am still keeping my promise for visiting an area every Friday for a couple of hours. I chose St. Henri and I had a reason for that. Last week my husband and I watched a report on TV which really struck me. The old residents of St. Henri who are mostly from the low income families have broken the windows of one of the recently-opened fancy super markets in Notre-Dame street. They were complaining about the fact that the new businesses are replacing those which can serve them better as a community. For a second I was reminded of my own experience. So many years ago I have never though of being the victim of this transition in the neighbourhoods but my last trip left me with this unpleasant feeling of an outsider in a neighbourhood where I grew up and formed as a person I am today. As someone who is extremely open to changes, new ideas and developments I can not think of a solution in which all the parties win from a situation like this.
With all these thoughts in mind, I walked in the streets of this trendy/rough neighbourhood. As much as I loved the various cafes and restos which have been opened in the last couple of years, I felt that something was missing. I had the same feeling I have got in Iran or some neighbourhoods in Toronto or any other city. There is no sense of a community in the area and there is no connection between the residents. The authenticity of the area is a big question mark for me. I missed the stories, the old stories of the old residents. I missed the smooth transition, a transition in which everyone is happy. I don’t know how to solve the problem but at least we can raise the flag and we can be aware of the problem.
The best picture with which I can describe the situation is the one below. The gap needs to be filled, not only in St. Henri but in any other neighbourhood in any other city. Preserving the stories of a city is essential for its own identity and the identity of its residents. Believe me I am coming from one of those cities in the world which has a big identity issue!