Monday 1st October is this year’s United Nations World Habitat Day, an annual event that has taken place on the first Monday in October since 1986 and which aims to “reflect on the state of human settlements and the basic right to adequate shelter for all”.
Run by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), each year carries a different theme, with 2012 focusing on ‘Changing Cities, Building Opportunities’.
“Cities are the engines of growth”
World Habitat Day 2012 recognises that cities are widely perceived as being the places where dreams and fortunes can be made, as demonstrated by the tale of Dick Whittington and programmes like BBC’s The Apprentice. Cities are where jobs are found, and with jobs should come opportunity, prosperity and a higher quality of life. However, not everyone’s aspirations come to fruition in cities, and many people’s expectations are sadly unfulfilled. Chaotic development, urban sprawl and shanty towns are all a result of the rapid centralisation of the world’s population, and it takes careful planning to ensure that the world’s cities are able to provide adequate shelter and livelihoods for their current and future inhabitants.
Urban Land and Legislation & Governance, Urban Planning & Design, Urban Economy, Urban Basic Services, Housing & Slum Upgrading, Risk Reduction & Rehabilitation, and Urban Research & Capacity Development are all areas that influence the planning and improvement of the world’s cities and which World Habitat Day aims to raise awareness of.
Helping people to live the dream
Rather than there being one huge international event, World Habitat Day consists of many different events and activities taking place all over the world, organised by individuals, groups and charities. It allows us to reflect on the state of the world’s cities and towns, to think about what needs to be achieved to make them better places to live and work and how to go about improving people’s living conditions.
UN-HABITAT lists numerous ways in which you can help to celebrate World Habitat Day and make a difference, including drawing attention to the event through mass media, organising public campaigns promoting the event, publicising any improvements that are evident in your city or town and fundraising to help improve services for poor communities.
Our work in Cities
Much of the projects ITF funds overseas work with rural communities though ITF works in urban areas more commonly in the UK. A great example is our partnership with Trees for Cities on the ELHAP Heritage Orchard Preservation Project – an initiative that aims to transform an overgrown space of woodland into an area that is accesible to the users of East London Handicap Adventure Playground (ELHAP).
Another great example of work ITF have carried out in urban areas is the Brenchly Gardens project. This involved redesigning and landscaping a south London estate, creating a welcoming and pleasant environment for the whole community to enjoy. The project was designed to involve the community as a whole and became an event in itself with face painting, bird box making, a swing band, workshops on habitat and the adaptation of animals to the environment.
While the theme is focused on urban communities, the International Tree Foundation’s wider work still applies to the day’s general theme of campaigning for and promoting every human’s basic right to adequate shelter. ITF’s work with forest communities to promote sustainable forestry, although predominantly rural-based, carries this theme through, with many communities benefiting from a higher quality of life thanks to projects run and funded by ITF. These have recently included the Empowering Communities project, which seeks to alleviate poverty for people in the Msongwe Community in Tanzania through environmental schemes; and the Improvement of Livelihoods of Rural People project which helps to improve the lives of 10,000 people living in the communities of Makungwa, Madimba, Mainja and Chinyanya, Malawi by encouraging sustainable forestry for building materials and fuel.