Participatory Management of Traditional Urban Water Infrastructures in Iran
Participatory Management of Traditional Urban Water Infrastructures in Iran

The Case of Tehran Historic Qanats


  • Sara Nourikia Shahid Beheshti University
  • Narjes Zivdar University College London, the Bartlett




traditional urban water infrastructures, stakeholders engagement, community-based partnership, qanat rehabilitation, qanat, participatory approach


Qanats have played a vital role in underground water extraction since ancient times based on the community-based water management schemes in Iran. Due to recent urban sprawl and development pressures, qanats are progressively abandoned and degraded in the cities and are considered as endangered assets. To be sustainable, in addition to physical maintenance, the ecological and social aspects of qanat management systems, as the main characteristic of Urban Water Infrastructures in Iran, also need to be taken into account. A review of the traditional participatory management systems in Iran, as well as the contemporary community-based interventions (CBI) in the context of qanats, demonstrates the significant role of public participation in this regard. This research aims to provide solutions and recommendations for enhancement of stakeholder engagement in contemporary qanat rehabilitation practices by adapting the traditional communal management techniques and multi-stakeholder approaches to qanat maintenance in Iran. For this purpose, the transformation of the key urban water stakeholders from past to present are studied and mapped based on their roles and influence on decision making process for the management of qanats. The resulting illustration of the stakeholders’ networks and the comparative study of inter-relationships not only reveals today’s institutional gaps and missing links in qanats’ management procedures, but also highlights the former community-based coordination mechanisms that used to support the smooth functioning of this socio-technical infrastructure by promoting constructive interactions among conflicting parties. In order to tackle contemporary governance challenges, this research also provides a set of practical recommendations to adjust those traditional learnings to new conditions by addressing the physical, environmental, and socio-cultural aspects of qanats in Tehran.


How to Cite

Nourikia, S., & Zivdar, N. (2020). Participatory Management of Traditional Urban Water Infrastructures in Iran: The Case of Tehran Historic Qanats. SPOOL, 7(2), 95–112.




Author Biographies

Sara Nourikia, Shahid Beheshti University

Sara Nourikia received her master’s degree in Urban Planning and Design from Shahid Beheshti University, Iran, in 2014. Since then she has been an urban researcher collaborating with several teams on various themes including socio-spatial segregation, active living and pedestrian-friendliness, socio-ecological resilience, and urban identity. As a result of her collaborations she has co-authored a number of papers and reports in Farsi and English. She participated a summer programme on planning and design with water held at TU Delft in 2019, which led her to take an interest in participatory approaches to planning and interventions, stakeholder engagement processes, and urban water management. Currently she is involved in a project focused on developing an audit instrument for assessing bike-ability of urban neighborhoods, and another research project on traditional water infrastructure of qanat in Tehran.

Narjes Zivdar, University College London, the Bartlett

Narjes Zivdar holds a MA in landscape architecture and planning and an academic certificate from Delft University of Technology (TU-Delft) in water governance and planning. She served as a consultant and as a research and evaluation practitioner for international development agencies in Iran including UN-Habitat, FAO of the United Nations, and Relief International (RI) since 2016 mainly focusing on evidence-based urban and community planning as well as climate change initiatives, sustainable infrastructures and water governance issues. She has taught in an open university in Tehran and published a number of research papers and book chapters, and is currently working on her research project with Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL) focused on "Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation of Development Programmes" funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).


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