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close this bookHabitat Debate - Vol. 3 - No. 1 - 1997 - Partnerships (HABITAT, 1997, 65 p.)
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Habitat News

Experts’ Meeting Launches European Urban Observatory

by Pietro Garau

In anticipation of the results of the Habitat II Conference, the Commission on Human Settlements, at its 15th session (CHS Resolution 15/6), gave UNCHS (Habitat) the mandate to establish a global housing and urban observatory that would permit comparative international evaluation of progress in meeting the aims of the Habitat Agenda and which would draw attention to and provide information on human settlements conditions worldwide.

The Global Urban Observatory will be a worldwide network of central and local governments and other partners who will produce and exchange information on progress in implementing national and local plans of action. Progress will be measured through the application of housing and urban indicators and encouraged through the exchange of best practices.

In order to follow up on this decision, the Commission approved, within the UNCHS 1996-1997 work programme, an activity consisting of an Expert Group Meeting on Building a Global Urban Observatory. This meeting, held on 30 January 1997, in Geneva, Switzerland, was organized by the UNCHS (Habitat) Europe Office. It was made possible by a financial contribution granted by the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs. The meeting was held at the “Maison de l’Habitat” in Geneva, a villa placed at the disposal of UNCHS by the Canton of Geneva for Habitat II follow-up activities, which has also become the headquarters of the UNCHS Europe Office.

The meeting was attended by 26 experts from Governmental institutions, cities and local authorities, non-governmental organizations including women’s and youth groups, intergov-ernmental organizations, professional and research networks, and UNCHS (Habitat). While the majority of the participants came from Europe, most of them added to their professional skills and qualifications an insider’s knowledge of the Habitat II process as well as consolidated experience in the international and North-South dimension of human settlements development. Therefore, the group was in an excellent position to revisit the terms of reference of the Global Urban Observatory, discuss its regional linkages and help develop initial terms of reference for the Geneva-based European Urban Observatory.

Conclusions and Recommendations

All participants identified in the Global Urban Observatory (GUO) a fundamental instrument for monitoring the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, sustaining the spirit of partnership and global commitment born in Istanbul, and developing awareness of the importance of human settlements and cities towards the goal of sustainable development. The importance of the gender dimension in the whole process was stressed.

The GUO should be based on two of Habitat’s programmes established to evaluate progress in the improvement of living conditions in human settlements and to exchange best-practice experience: the Indicators Programme and the Best Practices Programme.

All participants reaffirmed the value of the best practices approach and called for a continuing and expanded effort in collecting, evaluating and disseminating best and good practices. This approach offers a useful tool for Governments, local authorities and all partners to increase their capacity to act on the basis of what works.

Indicators should be used primarily as instruments to monitor the implementation of the national and local plans for action called for in the Habitat Agenda. The GUO would work with a network of national, regional and international institutions for technical co-operation and the analysis and disseminations of outputs.

While recognizing the value of indicators for identification of trends and comparisons at all levels, the group stressed the importance of encouraging, particularly at the local authority level, the development and application of housing and urban indicators sensitive to local situations and reflecting local priorities.

The need for a localized approach in indicators development and in their use for policy was demonstrated by the fact that the effectiveness of indicators increases with their level of local adaptation. This could be achieved through a consultative process involving all producers and users of information at the local level.

On the basis of the above considerations, the group agreed on the proposal of setting up “urban ateliers” or Local Urban Observatories as a bottom-up approach to the development of the GUO. Local Urban Observatories would be decentralized, city-based learning, training and networking structures capable of developing and using indicators to monitor the implementation of local plans of action and share this experience at the local, national, sub-regional, regional and global levels. (see also p.36)

The information collected through the GUO will be an essential input in the preparation of annual reports on the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.

The GUO and its regional dimensions should not be intended as top-heavy institutions, but as a networking facility based on the strengthening of the capacity of existing institutions and Habitat II partners.

Pietro Garau is Director of the UNCHS (Habitat) Europe Office in Geneva, Switzerland.

Local Urban Observatories

Tailoring Indicators to Local Needs

by Christine Auclair

While indicators are useful in comparing human settlements conditions at the global level, they must also be relevant at the city level to reflect specific local conditions. Indicators, moreover, can be powerful tools for city managers and for the various partner groups in negotiating and monitoring the implementation of urban policies.

These divergent characteristics of scale were extensively discussed by participants at a recent expert group meeting on the Global Urban Observatory where the disadvantages of a globalized system of indicators were contrasted with the positive attributes of a local-based approach. Qualitative differences were first revealed along the road to Istanbul, when the Indicators Programme team was collecting urban and housing indicators at the city level in collaboration with participating countries. There is now a consensus that, while comparable indicators are needed for global assessment of human settlements conditions, indicators should also describe particularities and reflect local concerns. There is agreement among experts that effectiveness of indicators for urban policy formulation and implementation increases with local adaptation.

The idea of the Local Urban Observatory, also called Urban Atelier, which emerged after Istanbul as a mechanism to help implement the Habitat Agenda, responds to the double demand for local adaptability and global continuity of urban indicators. A Local Urban Observatory is a unit where a team of people come together to develop effective and relevant tools and methods to address common issues. It is a designated institution at the local level where partners come together for the purpose of developing tools and methods for setting community goals and common priorities, for gathering and analyzing data on city conditions and trends and for monitoring policies and projects for the improvement of the city. The host institution may be a university faculty, a strong municipal agency, a local branch of a national or provincial ministry, an urban NGO, a private firm or some other entity dedicated to strengthening its own capacity to develop, manage and analyze information for urban policy.

Participants in the Local Urban Observatory could be mayors, members of local councils, boards, and authorities, representatives of ministries responsible for urban development, technicians involved inter alia in environmental and infrastructure management, statisticians, journalists, members of consumer groups, private builders, representatives of the civil society and all those who are interested in identifying key issues, assessing priorities and monitoring living conditions within their city. The partners who come together in a Local Urban Observatory will have to define their policy agenda, assess their capacity and set priority needs. They must then select appropriate indicators to monitor and evaluate progress in meeting those needs.

The Local Urban Observatory may be better defined through three functions:

(1) decentralized learning aimed at developing appropriate urban indicators, indices and policy evaluation frameworks for the city and at working at the city level through a consultative process involving policy-makers, non-governmental actors, researchers and the private sector;

(2) decentralized training to assist other cities at the national and sub-regional levels develop appropriate tools and methods for the generation, management and analysis of urban information and to build local capacity to apply the tools and methods on a regular and consistent basis in the process of formulating urban policy;

(3) decentralized networking for the purpose of sharing resources and knowledge, to exchange substantive and methodological information with other institutions and partners and to disseminate analyses of indicators at the national, regional and global levels.

Strengthening capacity of the Local Urban Observatory would be accomplished through cooperation with the UNCHS (Habitat) Urban Indicators Programme and its regional networks of institutions, which may include regional and country offices of United Nations entities, competent national and provincial agencies, universities, regional NGOs, private firms and other organizations. Regional networks may also be articulated through a system of decentralized cooperation for training and the development of local indicators systems. The overall development goal of the Urban Indicators Programme is to build institutional capacity for collection, management, analysis and dissemination of information which will be useful in the formulation of urban policy to implement the Habitat Agenda. Local Urban Observatories will become programme focal points for the development of skills and resources that will eventually constitute a resident capacity to perform monitoring and evaluation functions at the local level as part of the Global Urban Observatory network. At the global level, the Urban Indicators Programme will continue the collection of internationally comparable key indicators, tested and collected through the Local Urban Observatories, and will produce indices for the global assessment and comparison of human settlements trends and conditions.

Christine Auclair is an Adviser with the Urban Indicators Programme at UNCHS (Habitat).

For more information, please contact:

Christine Auclair, Indicators Adviser
Indicators Programme
UNCHS (Habitat)
P.O. Box 30030
Nairobi, Kenya
Phone: (254-2)-623694
Fax: (254-2)-624264
Internet: WWW:

Habitat Opens Office in Rio

The Habitat Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean was formally opened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 11 December 1996 with a ceremony and reception in the office premises organized by the Municipality of Rio. Approximately 150 people attended, including representatives of Government institutions, diplomatic missions, the private sector and the academic world.

In his speech, the outgoing Mayor, Cesar Maia, stressed primarily the efforts undertaken by his administration in tackling the severe urban problems of Rio and, in that perspective, the enormous importance he attached to bringing to the city an international presence through the Habitat office.

The Deputy Mayor, Eider Dantas, praised Mayor Maia’s initiative in bringing the Habitat office to Rio and promised that the support from the incoming administration will exceed the current one.

For more information, please contact:

Edificio Teleporto
Av. President Vargas, 3131/1304
20210-030 - Rio de Janeiro
Fax: (55-21) 515 1701

Best Practices Initiative Prepares for 1998 Awards

The Best Practices Steering Committee met from 4 to 6 February, 1997 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to draft its Road Map to the 1998 Awards for Excellence in Improving the Living Environment.

Building on the success of the 1996 Awards for Excellence, which saw nearly 700 submissions received from over 90 countries as part of the Habitat II preparatory process, UNCHS (Habitat) has decided to continue the Best Practice initiative as an ongoing search for human settlements success stories. The Rotterdam meeting brought together representatives of the 12 regional and thematic centres, as well as a number of key associate partners, making up the Best Practices Programme.

Among the key recommendations of this meeting were:

· Greater emphasis on transfering the lessons learned from best practices;
· Streamlining of the 1998 submission process into a one-step procedure; and
· Inclusion of a guide and examples of well-documented submissions on the revised nomination diskette.

The Steering Committee also revised the booklet, “1998 Awards For Excellence: Guide to Submitting Best Practices in Improving the Living Environment”. This document is now available for distribution.

For more information, please contact UNCHS (Habitat) at the address below, or visit the Web-Site

UNCHS (Habitat)
Best Practices Programme
P.O. Box 30030,
Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: (254 2) 624328
Fax: (254 2) 623080/624266-7


21 February 1997 Revised Submission Guidelines Available

1 May 1997 Submission Process Begins - Revised Nomination Diskette Available

1 April 1998 Deadline for Submissions for 1998 Awards for Excellence

June 1998 Technical Advisory Committee Meets to Evaluate and Recommend a Short-list of submission to the Jury

July 1998 Jury meets to Select Award Recipients

October 1998 Awards Presented to Coincide with World Habitat Day