Pierre Trudeau (white suit) entering Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, UN-Habitat Conference on Human Settlements, 1976. Courtesy CBC. All rights reserved.
Happy World Habitat Day! I bet you didn’t know that the UN has declared October 1 World Habitat Day. UN-Habitat, now headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, has a mandate to “promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.” Its very first conference, the Habitat Conference on Human Settlements, was held in Vancouver in 1976 (see also an earlier post on architect Arthur Erickson’s contribution to the 1976 conference here.). It was the first large international gathering on the topic of global urbanization and on the need for cities to develop a sustainable plan for the coming crowds. There was discussion of a future in which city dwellers would outnumber rural dwellers, a milestone that was in fact passed in 2007. The social and environmental issues raised in 1976 are of course even more pressing now but could be seen on the horizon, and our concept of sustainable development had its roots in that time. Barbara Ward, Lady Jackson, was one of the architects of the concept of sustainable development and she was just one of the many luminaries who attended the Vancouver conference.
Information on World Habitat Day from the UN-Habitat website:
The United Nations has designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day. The idea is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all, to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat. The United Nations chose the theme Better City, Better Life to highlight our collective vision of a sustainable urban world that harnesses the potential and possibilities, mitigates inequalities and disparities, and provides a home for people of all cultures and ages, both rich and poor.
For the past year I have been working on a book on Vancouver’s Habitat, amassing a large collection of material on this oddly forgotten yet notable and extremely colourful event. I’m particularly interested in Habitat Forum, the public/NGO portion of the conference and arguably its most interesting element. Were you at Habitat in 1976? If you were, and are willing to talk about your memories of it, please contact me. In 2006 the UN’s World Urban Forum came to Vancouver to mark Habitat’s 30th birthday. 2011 will be Habitat’s 35th anniversary, and I’m working toward that as publication date.
PHOTOS: There’s a large collection of photographs reserved for the book, but for now I like these screen shots from CBC news footage of the conference. Thanks to my friend Anu for digging up all the amazing CBC footage for me. Above: Pierre Trudeau in press conference (nice leather jacket) on the topic of the PLO-Israeli dispute that took over the official governmental part of the conference. Below, tour of the Habitat Forum site by press, politicians and UN representatives just before it opened. The site was built around five vintage WWII seaplane hangars on Vancouver’s Jericho Beach. The Haida mural is by well-known BC First Nations artist and sculptor Bill Reid. Sadly, this mural along with four of the hangars were needlessly demolished after Habitat by the Parks Board, despite a public outcry and despite the fact that it was federal land. Below, interesting CBC commentator fashions, and below that, economist Lady Jackson (Barbara Ward) addressing international delegates in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Bottom, Habitat logo. Screen shots courtesy CBC. All rights reserved.