Habitat International Coalition and the Habitat Conferences 1976-2016



Habitat International Coalition and the Habitat Conferences 1976-2016” brings together the memory of 40 years of local and global struggles and HIC’s experiences throughout the process of the Habitat Conferences

On the day designated by the United Nations as World Habitat Day, HIC joins the reflection on the state of our human settlements and on the human rights related to habitat. The World Habitat Day aims “to remind the world that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns” and therefore from HIC we want to share the experience lived by our Coalition from its birth to its 40th anniversary, celebrated during Habitat III.


HIC, along with other social movements, civil-society organizations, and community groups around the world reaffirms its commitment to continue to struggle for, and advocate the right to the city within a human rights habitat, enabling realization of “buen-vivir” (sumak kawsay) for all, irrespective of, and beyond the Habitat process and government authorization. We still seek real, community-based and people-centered solutions to the multiple crises facing human habitat, prioritizing local innovation so that the costs and correctives are notdeferred to today’s youth and future generations.

HIC General Assembly about Habitat III


The right to the city is not a novelty. For almost half a century it has functioned as a powerful flag of urban struggles (…). However, despite these advances, the debates on right to the city are yet to become part of the regular baggage of official and diplomatic representatives who meet at the UN to deal with matters of global interest. This was revealed during the negotiations for drafting the New Urban Agenda during the 2016 UN Summit on Human Settlements. Here, as this chapter narrates, the right to the city became one of the most contested topics for discussion and consensus building. (…) The challenges for its implementation are clear. Deep changes will be needed to confront the mantra of “inevitable urbanization”, and the imposition of paradigms that want to convince us of the supposed collective benefits of the “competitive city” and “smart city” while accumulating more and more wealth in few hands and destroy our communities and the planet at an accelerated pace.

Lorena Zárate about Habitat III

The process towards Habitat III should have taken into account an accurate evaluation of experiences from the previous 20 years regarding human settlements which helped display the structural causes that had led to building the type of cities and territories we know today. It would also have had to consider the Right to the City and its fundamental elements —such as the social functions of the city and of property— as the document’s backbone; to implement adequate tools to foster social production of habitat; to recognize popular alternatives; and(…) to provide the Agenda with clear indicators andgoals which allowed monitoring the agreements reached”

María Silvia Emanuelli about Habitat III


It is hoped that the “new agenda” that emerges from Habitat III benefits the world’s rural and urban populations; and, results in the realization of habitat-related rights for all —especially the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals, groups, and communities. While the challenges are immense, it is posible to reverse the current crises faced by states and the international community. The creation of inclusive, equitable, and sustainable habitats requires strong political will, financial commitment, and time-bound implementation. The international community must work together and exert the requisite effort to make this happen”Shivani Chaudhry about Habitat III


The ambitions enshrined in the Habitat II Agenda had soon lost their momentum and their enshrining documents passed into oblivion. Exactly ten years after Habitat II, the programme of the World Urban Forum III at Vancouver barely mentioned it(…)…However, a review of HIC’s “Housing for All” statement to Habitat II (1996)suggests that the same text would apply today (…) The 1996 reference to “structural adjustment” today would be replaced by its latter-day counterpart. The reforms imposed by international finance institutions effectively bring about the withering away of the State (…) This global pincer effect on the planet’s most vulnerable inhabitants makes public goods and services dearer for them, while systematically destroying their social production”.

Joseph Schechla, about Habitat II

The nineteen-nineties was the decade of UN global conferences, and women and habitat issues were by now right up front. (…) the women and habitat set of issues were beginning to develop more “bite” in terms of critical analysis, grounding in poor women’s concerns, and influencing international meetings of governments through the UN. At the Global Forum in Huairou, a suburb of Beijing at the time of the Fourth World Conference on Women, it was suggested to include individual women who are important figures in public life across the globe. Subsequently, (…) objections were raised to its role, suggesting it was a biased interest group”.Diana Lee-Smith about Habitat II
The most regressive dynamics that have taken place during the 40 years between Habitat I and Habitat III has been the shift in the importance assigned to land —to urban land, an essential element for the development and sustainability of human settlements. In Habitat I, the different patterns of land tenure and its control were at the core of the debate and within the proposals of urban planning. The governments are the ones who will watch over the imperfect markets (of urban land) to guarantee that they work efficiently and in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The Habitat II Agenda transferred the initiative to real estate agencies, indicating that States would support the development of land markets by means of effective and flexible legal frameworks.”Alfredo Rodríguez and Ana Sugranyes about Habitat II

The 1976 Human Settlements Conference in Vancouver will probably best be remembered because it was there that the world realized with a shock that in the developing countries a mass migration had started to take place from the rural to the urban areas. The high birth rate in those countries had as a consequence that the fertile land available was not sufficient to provide an adequate income for the newly-born and many of them had to go to the cities in order to find a job. They had to live in slums and low-grade settlements.”

Han van Putten on Habitat I


If (…) the Conference were to consider settlements without this fundamental dimension of human need, if it were to investigate their possible lack of aesthetics or functional convenience or cultural opportunities while ignoring the mass of misery festering at their base, one would have to say, adopting the contemptuous judgment of Tom Paine, that it ‘pities the plumage and forgets the dying bird’.”

Barbara Ward on Habitat I

The effort to place Habitat I recommendations into practice faced the difficulties of growing poverty, changes of government, bureaucratization and technocracy, created interests, and the magnitude of the challenges at hand. Butit also originated multiple social initiatives, perhaps modest in their scopes and numbers, but sufficient to place into march the construction of a more creative and permanent process.”

Enrique Ortiz on Habitat I




This publication is a joint work that aims to serve as an inspiration for the coming years, to motivate the continuation of the fight for a habitat underpinned by human rights at local, national and international levels. In addition, it is a reflection and critique of the conference process and the role of HIC since 1976.

Through a collection of declarations, analyses, news articles, discourses, experiences and images the publication reflects the different voices within the Coalition, from social movements and organizations to academia, researchers and experts.

The final part of the publication seeks to honour people who will always be part of the HIC family, as a token of our appreciation and gratitude for their valuable work and true life example.

Finally, a list is included with all the Members, Allies and Donors without whom the Coalition’s fight for social transformation towards a fairer, more inclusive, democratic and sustainable world would not be possible. With this publication from HIC we also want to thank all of them for their conviction, will and tireless struggle for the right to habitat.

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