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Habitat Agenda

From: Han Van Putten
Category: Category 2
Date: 14 Apr 2000
Time: 16:42:35
Remote Name:


Date: Fri, 14 Apr 2000 13:00:28 +0000 From: "han van putten" <> To: Subject: Habitat Agenda

Dear Colleagues,

I welcome the e-mail conference on The Role of Research in the Context of the Habitat Agenda and I would like to make the following comments:

1. How new is the Habitat Agenda?

I question whether the Habitat Agenda really contains a new vision on the role of the city. Many of its recommendations are similar to those of the first Habitat conference of 1976. Principles like partnership and enablement were added in 1988 when the Global Strategy for Shelter in the Year 2000 was adopted, and the ideas about sustainability differed little from the recommendations contained in chapter 7 of the Agenda 2000 adopted at the UNCED conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

This does not mean that the Habitat Agenda is not important. It has been generally acclaimed as a useful comprehensive set of guidelines for human settlement policy. In many ways it sets standards to be aspired by all governments.

2. The role of the city

The Istanbul conference showed a tendency to overestimate the role of the city. Exaggerating its capabilities provided the justification to governments to put a major part of the responsibility for economic and social policies on the shoulders of local authorities.

There is no doubt that cities are the places where things are happening and by promoting a spirit of community, making land and other facitities available, promoting informal credit institutions and a whole range of similar measures, local authorities can contribute to development. But they are by no means the only actors. Decisions about the city are made by many others, governmental and non-governmental, both within and outside the city limits. In carrying out policies in the fields of poverty, unemployment, security, education, to name a few, local authorities may be important as implementors, but they can do little without support, financially and through the delegation of powers, by central governments. And in an increasing number of fields even national governments are unable to steer developments autonomously.

Before we speak about the city as the centre of development, the questions have to be answered: who is the city? and what are its possibilities and limitations? Research is badly needed.

* The root causes

Indealing with the problems of human settlements the Habitat Agenda speaks almost exclusively about ways to remedy the symptoms. It hardly mentions the root causes.

Poverty is no doubt the cause of many problems in the city. What are the causes of poverty? It is often mentioned that the eradicationof poverty is "technically possible". FRHS would make a major contribution to the international discussion of this theme by drafting a concrete plan for poverty eradication, indicating which specific steps have to be taken to achieve this goal.

* Implementation

The unfortunate fact is that resolutions of UN conferences have no force of law. One may ask: what is then the meaning of the solemn "commitments" which governments say they are undertaking in the Habitat Agenda?

Monitoring the implementation of commitments and recommendations is one of the few ways to put pressure on governments to carry out their promises. The monitoring process is therefore important: government should be asked to answer specific questions. Nevertheless, experience has taught that governments usually report on positive developments only; they are unwilling to mention their shortcomings.

Here too is a task for research institutes: they should produce supplementary national reports for Istanbul + 5, giving a more complete picture of the situation.

The role of research institutes in this respect is, by the way, recognized in the Habitat Agenda, when it speaks in article 238 about "facilitating mechanisms for independent, detached, impartial and objective monitoring of human settlements progress".

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Last changed: March 13, 2002