Promoting Role of Cemeteries in Social and Cultural Aspects of Sustainable Urban Development in Iran

Document Type : Research Article


Assistant Professor Faculty of Architecture University of Tehran


A comprehensive study of the cemeteries in several Iranian cities shows the disorganization of urban planning for cemeteries and a lack of attention to this issue. In many cities, despite the shortage of cemetery space and strict requirements to the cemetery, land use planning receives no adequate attention. In Comprehensive Urban Plans taking the cemetery into account as one of the important and valid functions of public services is rarely seen. Therefore, the current research shows that most of the Comprehensive Urban Plans of Iranian cities have treated the cemeteries as an urban functional place, the same as landfills or the water treatment plants and have transferred it to the farthest point of the city in the shape of a mega cemetery.It can be concluded that Iranian urban metropolitan zones nowadays face single or mega cemeteries. Also, historical urban cemeteries have been abandoned and have virtually seen no sign of modernity.
On the one hand, in the case of historical urban cemeteries, much damage can be seen from their demolition. For instance, the gradual obliteration of an area that may have been once a memorable site for senior citizens could undermine them severely. This is perhaps one of the factors that could lead to reduction of these groups' connection with the modern city life and limit their interaction with it. Moreover, the connection between the older generation with the younger generation on memorable sites like the cemeteries will be missing and consequently cause decrease of the collective identity in the community.
On the other hand, facing single or mega cemeteries in urban areas seems to make many difficulties for the Iranian cities; Ignorance of the distance and scale in urban planning, and the same about the social aspects of architecture in burial spaces. Consequently the quality of human relations is reduced and costs for visiting the cemeteries are also significantly increased. During the 70's of 20th century, sustainable urban development has been considered as a goal in many cities around the world. Therefore, the mentioned problems about single and mega cemeteries and the demolition of historical urban ones seem to be an obstacle in front of achieving sustainable urban development in Iranian metropolises.
These problems are occurring while cemeteries seem to play many different roles as an urban space, particularly with regards to the cultural and social aspects. Studying these roles seems to be helpful for finding solutions for many issues important for urban development plans.Two cemeteries have been used as the research case studies; one a historical urban cemetery in Tehran named Zahiroddoleh Cemetery (established in 1924), where the graves of many famous figures are located, and Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. (Pictures 1 and 2)
The research method used in this essay is Qualitative Research. Since this method has a great potential for investigating the quality of living conditions and life environment, as is apparent from the subject of this paper, it seems to be an efficient research method.Besides analyzing three aspects of sustainable development, including environmental, social and economical, UNESCO’s Agenda 21 has become a base for reaching sustainable development without paying attention to cultural diversities. This essay is focusing on the need of cultural issues in sustainable development while studying the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversities by UNESCO. Therefore, how cemeteries effect on urban areas in any of four aspects mentioned above is one of the main ideas discussed. This article suggests guidelines to improve cemeteries' roles in achieving sustainable development and by suggesting four following programs:
1. Revival and qualitative improvements of available historical cemeteries,
2. Extension of these cemeteries depending on their situations and neighborhood functions,
3. Providing new cemeteries in urban areas in line with special cemetery targets like laying cultural figures down to rest near major cultural sites of their lifetime interest.
4. Using cemeteries as an urban landscape area.
It seems important that for implementing any of these four programs, there is a need to pay attention to different facets of cemetery spaces.Nonetheless, enhancing the function of cemeteries to reach a sustainable urban development in Iranian metropolises is something which is possible to achieve.