Join Food Tank today as we celebrate World Habitat Day (WHD). In 1985, the United Nations (UN) designated the first Monday in October to encourage reflection and action on how and where we live across the globe in light of the human right to adequate shelter.
This year, WHD marks the beginning of Urban October, a month-long engagement with the most urgent questions surrounding growing cities across the globe. This year, the WHD theme is “Housing at the Centre,” in response to a pressing need to address adequate housing in the face of widespread urbanization. The 2016 WHD objectives and initiatives grow out of the New Urban Agenda—a document that establishes global standards for sustainable urban development—and Habitat III, the 2016 UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, in Quito, Ecuador. The conference is the third in a series launched in 1976 to address sustainable urbanization in communities around the world.
According to the UN, by the year 2050, 66 percent of the global population will live in cities. Projections suggest that just three countries—India, China, and Nigeria—will account for 37 percent of predicted growth of urban populations. Currently, about 25 percent of the global urban population lives in informal housing or slums.
Cities will have to adapt—and quickly—to growing populations. “The habits of urban dwellers will largely determine the health of our ecosystems and the survival of biodiversity. Sustainable urbanization is essential for maintaining human well-being. Cities—their inhabitants and governments—can, and must, take the lead in fostering a more sustainable stewardship of our planet’s living resources,” says Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Assistant Secretary-General of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Without creative and urgent responses, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports, urbanization could pose a threat to food security across the board. According to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, urban agriculture can play a critical role in supporting urban livelihoods and food and nutrition security, especially in low-income communities, where families may also generate income from urban farming through local, informal markets and networks. Growing food in cities often helps to ensure a more diverse and nutritious diet through facilitating access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It can also mean more food for urban residents—in some cases, urban households that grow their own food ate 30 percent more than average.
Urban agriculture will play a pivotal role in the cities of the future, the New Urban Agenda proposes. Sustainable urban planning under its global standards will address food security, nutrition, and hunger, alongside steps to make cities more efficient and reduce waste.
In cities around the world, families, communities, and organizations depend on urban agriculture. In Lusaka, Zambia, a study in the journal Urban Forum reports, over half the population grows a portion of its food in urban gardens or farms. Businesses like the Brooklyn Grange in New York City transform city rooftops into productive green spaces. And, farmers like Fátima Anselmo in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are repurposing unused land into urban farms, creating habitats that support local livelihoods.
WHD includes initiatives like Urban Walks, Urban Talks, and Urban Nights to encourage people to engage with the critical questions about urbanization in their local contexts. Consider hosting an event, or find one nearby. Promote celebration of WHD online by using #HabitatDay #UrbanOctober and #NewUrbanAgenda in social media.