First Meeting of the U.S. National Preparatory Committee for Habitat II
L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, Washington, D.C.
In response to the rapid urbanization taking place across the globe, the United Nations (UN) will convene Habitat II a Global Conference of Cities--in Istanbul, Turkey, in June 1996. The UN has invited all member governments not to negotiate a treaty, but to help develop new approaches to the financing and management of housing and urban growth. As part of the Habitat II effort, Henry G. Cisneros, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has named a National Preparatory Committee (consisting of broad representation from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors) to oversee the U.S. preparations for the Istanbul Conference.
On April 12, 1995, Secretary Cisneros convened the first meeting of the National Preparatory Committee for Habitat II at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C., which formally began the U.S. preparations for the Conference. Thoughtful presentations were made by the Committee's chair and co-chairs that provided the framework for discussions of the major themes and problems having both global and domestic implications. Participants offered guidance to the Committee on how they might best contribute to the planning process. The interactive nature of the meeting provided an opportunity for helpful input and insight from Committee members, and resulted in several suggested areas on which they might focus and possible approaches for taking action on the urbanization trends they identified.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HABITAT II
Secretary Cisneros opened the meeting by discussing the significance of the Habitat II Conference. The Secretary noted that Habitat II comes 20 years after the first Habitat Conference, which took place in Vancouver, Canada, in 1976. He pointed out that while the Vancouver Conference focused on problems of urban and rural human settlements, Habitat II will be more focused. The Istanbul Conference, also known as the City Summit, will address the problems facing the world's cities and towns, where an increasing proportion of the population is settling.
Following the Secretary's opening remarks, Michael Stegman, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, provided an overview of the Habitat II process and the roles of HUD, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). Dr. Stegman then cited three major objectives for the Habitat II Conference and the national preparatory process:
- Raise Awareness: To raise the level of global and national awareness to the problems of increasing urbanization and the positive role of cities and towns as centers of major social, cultural, and economic activity.
- Encourage Investment: To stimulate resource mobilization and investment in shelters and urban developments, which will improve people's living environments.
- Develop Plans of Action: To design, develop, adopt, and implement plans of action that are based on broad global issues, but that reflect national and local priorities.
Dr. Stegman observed that the global challenges facing cities internationally reflect a new concept--"the undeveloping world"--in which cities are becoming less efficient as markets and producers and less humane and attractive for their inhabitants. For cities to work, they must embrace a new social contract as partners with the international community and participate cooperatively in the humane solutions required to address their economic and social problems. Dr. Stegman asserted that this administration's community investment strategy and the country's national urban policy must face and address these challenges and goals.
The next presenter, Sally A. Shelton, Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Global Affairs, AID, discussed her Agency's effort to promote urban development as part of the Habitat process. She described how AID is developing a series of new partnership initiatives to strengthen the social, economic, and political decisionmaking capacities of local governments in the developing world. The Agency is also seeking better ways to contribute to the sustainable cities initiative. For example, its Lessons Without Borders program applies lessons learned from AID work overseas to inner-city problems in this country. Agency staff are also assisting developing country preparations for Habitat II to ensure that preparatory processes take a broad-based participatory approach, such as that in the United States.
Next, Melinda L. Kimble, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, U.S. Department of State, discussed the significance of the UN Global Conference Series. She noted that 10 UN Conferences have been, or will be, held in this decade in cities around the world. "If we follow their advice," she urged, "we can change the world in the 21st century." She added that--in a world that is both globalizing and fragmenting at the same time--the greatest challenge for the Habitat II process is how to enable both individuals and communities to make sustainable decisions. Ms. Kimble closed by saying that the partnership among HUD, nongovernmental organizations, and communities is critical to our ability to bring to the attention of the world community--one individual, one community, and one city at a time--the multiple solutions we are finding.
THE ROLE OF THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE
Assistant Secretary Stegman continued the discussion of the National Preparatory Committee's role by acknowledging the broad array of knowledge and expertise of the participants around the table. He suggested that the Committee has three basic functional objectives:
- To help develop a framework for the national report and subsequently develop a national plan of action.
- To identify and share "best practices" from the Committee members' diverse areas of representation and to offer methods for recognizing, disseminating, and promoting this information.
- To raise the level of public awareness about Habitat II and the challenges facing this country's human settlements. It is the Committee's responsibility to develop strategies to inform our citizens about those challenges and determine how they view our urban problems.
Dr. Stegman stressed that preparations for Habitat II, especially the effort to raise the level of public awareness about urban problems, must embody one or more themes that incorporate the message we want to send to the United States and to the world. He presented the following themes for the Committee's consideration:
- Building Bridges: Residents of distressed urban communities must be reconnected to America's economic and social mainstream.
- Regionalism: Cities and suburbs are highly interdependent parts of integrated regional economies whose overall competitiveness is dependent on the health of each jurisdiction; therefore, we must take a regional approach to solving urban problems.
- Comparative Advantage: Self-sufficiency is the key to building successful communities; consequently, our national plan should build upon the inherent strengths of urban areas (especially the inner cities).
- Sustainable Development: We must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs; therefore, we must develop solutions that will sustain long-term economic growth while protecting and improving the environment.
Continuing the discussion, the co-chairs offered their thoughts on some themes for national preparations:
- Aurie A. Pennick, President, Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, stated that the Habitat process can help further our understanding about what is occurring globally, as well as what is happening in our own backyard. Ms. Pennick suggested a theme of interconnectedness as a way of acquiring public support for Habitat II initiatives.
- Moises Loza, Executive Director, Housing Assistance Council, offered several suggestions for using the benefits of lessons learned to formulate approaches that work. In his discussion of the economic and social problems facing both rural and urban communities, Mr. Loza emphasized the need for community self-assessment and input. He added that while solutions must be tailored to individual needs, they should also entail a collective emphasis.
- James Carr, Vice President for Housing Research, Fannie Mae, emphasized the notion of shared problems and the development of action plans. Mr. Carr stated that the United States must not be inwardly focused. We must foster a climate of dialog with other countries to arrive at possible international solutions to some of the intransigent problems this country faces.
After the co-chairs completed their remarks, members of the Committee offered their suggestions on preparatory activities and key themes. The Committee emphasized the importance of promoting technology, developing regional solutions, building partnerships, and fostering neighborhood involvement.
Near the end of the meeting, Secretary Cisneros asked the Committee to recommend additional members to help with the national preparations. Members suggested a wide range of people from a vast array of disciplines and organizations, including: the housing industry, tenant associations, building trades, academia, labor groups, community-based organizations, government agencies, African-American organizations, Native-American organizations, policy research institutions, women's institutions, children's institutions, the legal profession, the transportation industry, and community development corporations.
At the end of the meeting, Assistant Secretary Stegman identified several next steps for the National Preparatory Committee:
- Form working groups: Dr. Stegman recommended that the Committee divide into smaller working groups. He then told members that a request form will be sent for them to sign up in their area of expertise, or in the areas that interest them.
- Report from Nairobi: Dr. Stegman discussed the upcoming International Preparatory Committee meeting for Habitat II in Nairobi, Kenya, and promised to give members a full report by early May.
- Need representation at upcoming celebration: Dr. Stegman noted that a Committee representative would be needed to present a briefing at an upcoming conference to celebrate the UN's 50th anniversary. A reception for the Habitat II National Preparatory Committee will be held at the We the People Conference, scheduled for June 22-24, in San Francisco. The briefing will be an opportunity for members to help bridge the work of HUD with that of nongovernmental organizations, particularly with regard to sustainable communities.
Committee Member Participants List
Henry G. Cisneros, Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, (Chair)
Moises Loza, Executive Director, Housing Assistance Council, Washington, DC (Co-Chair)
Aurie A. Pennick, President, Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, Chicago (Co-Chair)
James Carr, Vice President, Housing Research, Fannie Mae
Dr. Michael A. Stegman, Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Sally A. Shelton, Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Global Affairs, U.S. Agency for International Development
Melinda L. Kimble, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Russell Keune, American Institute of Architects
Harvey Bernstein, Civil Engineering Research Foundation
Cushing Dolbeare, Consultant on Housing and Public Policy
Robert Curvin, Ford Foundation
Rev. Thomas L. Jones, Habitat for Humanity
Joan Baggett, International Masonry Institute
Camille Barnett, Research Triangle Institute
Warren Lasko, Mortgage Bankers Association of America
James Irvine, National Association of Home Builders
Dr. John Tuccillo, National Association of Realtors
Rev. Charles Rawlings, National Council of Churches
Harriet Macklin, National Rural Housing Coalition
George Knight, Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation
Philip Walsh, Partners for Livable Communities
Ting C. Pei, The Pei Group
Neal R. Peirce, Syndicated Columnist
David Rusk, Writer, former Mayor
Dr. John Kasarda, University of North Carolina
Hunter Morrison, City Hall, Cleveland, Ohio
George Latimer, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Peter Kimm, U.S. Agency for International Development
David Mammen, American Planning Association
George Galster, Urban Institute
Michael Doaks, National League of Cities