IRDR sponsored UCL conference on “Urban Change in Iran” inspires the next generation of researchers

By Rosanna Smith, on 7 November 2012

UCL conference on “Urban Change in Iran” on Thursday 8th and Friday 9th November.

This conference, sponsored by the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, was initiated and led by Fatemah (Farnaz) Arefian, an academic, practitioner and director of Civitas Phoenix (an urban design company), who has been on a doctoral programme at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit, DPU, since early 2010. Her desire to drive forward this conference arose from witnessing a lack of representation of Iran at conferences on urbanism in the Persian Gulf, and from Westerners’ perceptions of the possibilities for women in Iran. She wanted to demonstrate that the glass ceiling for women in Iran is no lower than other countries, and to create a neutral platform on which to discuss issues of urbanism and the built environment in Iran.

Farnaz soon found that organising this conference involved many unique challenges, but was also rewarding and encouraging in many unexpected ways.

At the inception of the idea, it was very difficult to convince anyone that the conference was politically neutral. Everyone wanted to know whom Farnaz represented, and whether the Iranian government was involved. As the main purpose of this conference was to create an independent and neutral platform for academic discussion, many sponsorship opportunities were declined to safeguard this platform against any political interpretations or direction.

Fortunately, once the ball was rolling and plans became more concrete and public, support for the conference snowballed. Many young Iranian researchers, particularly those based in the UK, but also some based in Iran and several other countries, came forward asking how they could be involved, and how they could help. Many of these young researchers felt that at many other conferences and academic journals, their contributions were ignored purely on the grounds of being Iranian. These PhD students and other young researchers were inspired by the opportunity to present their work at a conference on Iran, where Iranians are welcome, on a neutral academic platform with an international audience. After expecting 150 people to submit abstracts to this conference, 625 were received. The topic and platform had truly inspired a great number of people!

In the middle of the build up to this conference, the UK and Iran closed their embassies in each other’s countries. This meant that Iranian academics based in Iran had to go to a third country, for a period of 2 to 3 weeks, to obtain a UK visa. Several academics actually went to these lengths to attend this conference, with some even applying through a second country after being refused a visa from the first country. Many people truly are inspired by this opportunity to present their work, on the important issue of Urban Change in Iran, at a location outside of Iran. A place where they can have academic discussion before an international audience on a neutral independent platform. This promises to be a truly inspiring, lively and interesting conference. More updates to follow, once the conference is underway.

Conference website: http://urban-change-in-iran.org/