Skip to main content

Tehran district grows by leaps and bounds

The Iranian capital's newest district presents plenty of opportunities, but also challenges.

Covering about 12,000 hectares (46 square miles), District 22 is a fast-growing expansion to the Iranian capital. Already home to a large population, this northwestern Tehran district is being established as a major tourist and business district. Geographically, it is situated below Kan River, facing the tall Alborz Mountains to its north, and the hand-planted Vardavard Forest to its west. This unique locality is what initially led Tehran Municipality to hire contractors to develop the area.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a District 22 municipal official told Al-Monitor: “In the 1980s, half of the district was owned by the armed forces. In 2000, the bill for development of the district was adopted. The actual expansion, however, started in 2006 under Dr. [Mohammad Bagher] Qalibaf’s mayoralty."

Of note, Qalibaf, who remains Tehran’s mayor, is a former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Aerospace Force (IRGC AF) and the Iranian Police Forces. After losing his bid for office in the 2005 presidential elections, he was elected mayor by the Tehran City Council.

Extensive construction projects dot the landscape, with long and wide roads and newly constructed high-rises finished. The density and scale of high-rises cannot be seen in any other district of Tehran. The sky is covered with huge tower cranes, bulldozers are everywhere, and heavy-duty machines are operating 24 hours a day. Ali Rafiei, a taxi driver living in Negin town, told Al-Monitor, "It's always like this. It's like American movies. They don't stop even for an hour. We don't have a bit of silence."

The census published on District 22’s website puts the 2006 population at about 140,000. However, that figure has exploded over the past nine years. In November, the director-general of Tehran province's transport and urban development department, Fariborz Vahedi, criticized the pace of development in District 22. He said that a limit of 500,000 residents had been set for 2025, but that it "has been reached a decade earlier than planned."

The deputy director of Tehran City Council’s urban development committee, Mohammad Mehdi Tondgooyan, estimates District 22’s population at over 1 million. In January, he warned about overpopulation due to excessive construction of residential and commercial complexes, saying that the district was “planned for 300,000 people in 2001.”

Such warnings have not stopped municipal authorities from authorizing the erection of more buildings. The foreman at a nascent residential complex told Al-Monitor: "There is still vacant land, so what is the problem? I think the municipality is following proper policy. Construction of more buildings in this district means an inflow of people from other areas, leading to a distribution of the population."

Despite its booming population, District 22 is not plagued by daytime traffic — which is the case in most other districts — because its area is vast, and composed of 23 towns. At night, however, the situation dramatically changes.

District 22’s centerpiece, the artificial "Persian Gulf Martyrs" lake, locally known as Chitgar Lake due to its proximity to the nearby Chitgar Park, provides a beautiful urban sight. It attracts a large number of people from other districts and even adjacent cities. An employee of the Chitgar Lake Leisure Complex told Al-Monitor that the site started operating in May 2013, and that “the area of the lake is 132 hectares [326 acres], and its depth ranges between 2.5 and 13 meters [8 to 43 feet]."

Chitgar Lake, established with the primary goal of helping clean Tehran's polluted air, is surrounded by government, commercial and residential complexes. Ahmad Masjed Jamei, a Reformist figure and former chairman of Tehran City Council, criticized the widespread construction when he visited the lake last summer: "Construction of skyscrapers and destruction of gardens contradict the initial goals of the Chitgar Lake project. Actions should be taken to reduce the height of the skyscrapers so as to not block air flow." Alef, a media outlet run by prominent Principlist Tehran MP Ahmad Tavakkoli, has also voiced similar criticism: “A large number of people were supposed to enjoy the view of the lake. This goal cannot be reached with the excessive construction of skyscrapers and commercial complexes." 

The Chitgar Lake Leisure Complex employee told Al-Monitor that since 2006, when it was decided to establish a lake in the area, contractors bought land and started construction because they expected a safe return: "In the summer of 2013, the square meter price of an apartment in the district's skyscrapers reached 13 million toman [approximately $4,450 at official rate, $3,900 at market rate]. However, the price has decreased now, as even though residents of skyscrapers have a beautiful view of the lake, they face problems such as an unpleasant smell, frogs and dust." He further said that dust storms due to destruction of gardens have sometimes caused trouble for people in the area. 

Several residents of District 22 echoed this view to Al-Monitor. Saeid, a 65-year-old retired military officer living in Omid town, said: “I'm regretful about moving to this district. I thought it was quiet and clean, but there are dust storms making me cough every day." Marzieh Rahimi, a 34-year-old dentist who moved to Sahel town a year ago, brought up other problems; “buildings are safe and standard, but the district lacks urban infrastructure such as subways, buses, public hospitals, supermarkets and stores. It is like houses near the Caspian Sea [in northern Iran]. It is a good place to relax for a few days, not to live for a long period."

A professor of urban studies at the University of Tehran, who wished to remain anonymous, told al-Monitor: "Despite all the words of the municipality, District 22 was formed and expanded without considering urban and demographic infrastructure. Unfortunately, there is no will in the Tehran City Council to oppose this trend. Likewise, environmentalists have no supervision over the process."

Tehran Municipality still has huge plans for District 22, such as an expansion of the artificial waterfall, establishment of Tehran's biggest theme park and aquatic park (“Project One Thousand and One City”), and erection of numerous residential complexes and malls. In May 2014, Qalibaf said that the population of District 22 would never reach 1.5 million and that the district is planned for 400,000 residents. The professor of urban studies told Al-Monitor: "The project is endless. The municipality will continue expansion as long as it sells. I think it will be the biggest urban development project in the Middle East’s history."

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

Text Alerts - Be the first to get breaking news, exclusives, and PRO content.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial