Thursday, 23 November 2017

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We have the power and responsibility to shape our future habitat

lady looks out the window
A woman peeps through a window in Madagascar, 2008. Photo: UN-Habitat

3.10.2016 – The need for adequate housing is growing fast. Around one quarter of the world’s urban population continues to live in slums and informal settlements and an increasing number are living in precarious conditions. Globally, a billion new houses are needed by 2025 to accommodate 50 million new urban dwellers per year.

“Housing at the Centre” is the theme chosen to stress the urgency of the state of housing on 2016’s World Habitat Day. Held on the first Monday of every October since 1986, World Habitat Day carries extra significance in heralding the official beginning of Urban October- a time of raising awareness, promoting participation, generating knowledge and engaging the international community on sustainable urban development. The purpose of World Habitat Day and Urban October is to remind the world that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns.

Recognised as part of the right to an acceptable standard of living in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adequate housing means more than four walls and a roof; specific conditions, including habitability, security of tenure and affordability, must be met before particular forms of shelter can be considered as “adequate housing”. Enhancing community cohesion and safety is another key tenet of World Habitat Day 2016.

calton hill
Edinburgh Council is part of the Co-operative Council Innovations Network. Photo: Flickr/ Raphaël Chekroun

One exciting area of possibility lies in the development of co-operatives, for example Edinburgh Council having supported the establishment of co-ops in the city since joining the Co-operative Council Innovation Network. Co-operatives are autonomous associations of people united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs through jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Housing co-operatives can be a way to achieve the requisites of adequate housing, by fostering community, offering affordable rents and taking responsibility for the living environment. As Ariel Guarco, President of the Co-operative Confederation of Argentina (COOPERAR) said at the UN in July, “a cooperative does not have to be convinced to be socially responsible. A cooperative is social responsibility in enterprise form. This is why we are optimistic about our ability to contribute to sustainable development. Our values and our practices make us predisposed to do so.”

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Quito, where Habitat III will be held. Photo: UNHabitat

Potentially the apex of Urban October is Habitat III Conference, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development due to take place in Quito, Ecuador. With 54.9% of the world’s population living in urban dwellings in 2016, up from 37.9% in 1973, the Secretary General of the Conference, Dr. Joan Clos, emphasises that the Conference is an opportunity to promote “a new model of urban development able to integrate all facets of sustainable development to promote equity, welfare and shared prosperity”. Co-operative Housing International will be participating. The objectives of the Conference are to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assess accomplishments to date, address poverty and identify and address new and emerging challenges. The New Urban Agenda that will be adopted during the conference should be concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented.

Ahead of the day and month dedicated to living needs, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon explained:

With the world embarking this year on implementing the historic 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Habitat III has particular resonance.  The 2030 Agenda is a comprehensive, integrated and inclusive blueprint for peace, prosperity, dignity and opportunity for all people on a healthy planet.  Achieving its 17 Sustainable Development Goals will depend, in large part, on whether we can make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

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IMAGE: UNHabitat

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