Habitat III: Visions for global housing and community development
The lessons learned in Quito, Ecuador, will inform architects' work for years to come
In October, the world will come together for the third time at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development (Habitat III) to study, plan, and dream about achieving the universal human right of an adequate place to live in security, peace, and dignity. For the first time, the AIA—as an organization—will be at the conference to learn from an interdisciplinary gathering of experts and members of vulnerable communities about both tested and theoretical strategies for building and maintaining resilient human settlements in the face of climate change, war, discrimination, slavery, environmental degradation, and poverty.
The right to adequate housing was recognized internationally in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further defined in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In response to the numerous challenges of rapid urbanization, the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements took place in Vancouver in 1976. Attendees included Paolo Soleri, Buckminster Fuller, and Margaret Mead. The resulting conference report focused on equitable distribution of the benefits of development, and led to the UN General Assembly establishing the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, better known now as Habitat. A second Habitat convening was held in Istanbul in 1996 and focused on planning for safer, healthier, livable, and sustainable cities with a special emphasis on the needs of the most vulnerable populations.
Habitat III is a unique opportunity to learn from the world [and] to share success stories and innovative approaches.
Next month in Quito, Ecuador, Habitat III will establish a New Urban Agenda to address the challenges of an urbanizing world, including climate change, mass conflicts and violence resulting in migration and loss of homeland, and the needs of over a billion people who live in slums. The vision, principles, and required commitments are ambitious. If agreed and adhered to—by nation-states, regional and local governments, NGOs, and organizational stakeholders such as the AIA—the New Urban Agenda will establish sustainability, equity, and resilience to be of equal importance to economic growth in measuring rural and urban development.
It places affordable and healthy housing as a central element in strategies for reducing poverty and increasing stability, and excellent design as essential to “optimize the spatial dimension of the urban form,” with the power to “promote or hinder social cohesion, equality, and inclusion.” Strategies to achieve this vision include broadening inclusive platforms and promoting “meaningful participation in decision-making.” Yet, identifying specific participatory methodologies is both the challenge and the opportunity inherent in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.
To that end, the Housing and Community Development Network, a Knowledge Community of the AIA, plans to organize and document presentations about successful participatory action research and public interest design initiatives that engage and empower the poorest and most marginalized, so that these best practices can be shared and disseminated in Quito and beyond.
The New Urban Agenda will establish sustainability, equity, and resilience to be of equal importance to economic growth in measuring rural and urban development.
These examples will be drawn from exhibitions, lectures, and the Habitat III Village, where forty-two innovative place-making teams will demonstrate concepts for reshaping human settlements. Interactive exhibits will feature participatory processes, eco-friendly housing, alternative uses for public space, youth perspectives, sustainable power generation, transportation strategies, health risks, disaster recovery, and employing technology to improve everyday life. Several participants of the Habitat III Village will take conference attendees out to local communities to engage with residents and work in real time on solving immediate problems.
Habitat III is a unique opportunity to learn from the world, to share success stories and innovative approaches, and to highlight the essential nature of participatory discourse and community engagement with the attention of global leaders. Participation will inform the next twenty years of the AIA’s Housing and Community Development Network’s programming, services to our members and the profession, and collaboration with our strategic partners. Join us on Twitter at @AIAHousingKC and on Facebook at facebook.com/AIAHousingKC to learn more and become engaged in addressing some of the most important issues facing humanity.
Jamie Blosser, AIA, and Kathy Dorgan, FAIA, are part of the AIA's Housing and Community Development Network, an AIA Knowledge Community that serves over 10,000 AIA members by providing webinars, research grants, training and workshops, as well as celebrating excellent design in housing. The group has been working over the past two years to prepare for Quito, including hosting an open house at AIA Convention 2015, participating in developing the national agenda, and preparing case studies.