Origins, Preparations, Proceedings & Outcomes

Habitat II, the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements took place from June 3 to 14, 1996 in Istanbul, Turkey, twenty years after the original Habitat Conference held in Vancouver when the world community first adopted an agenda for human settlements development. Habitat II – which came to be known as “The City Summit” – brought together 12,000 people with the aim to increase global and national awareness of the problems and potential of human settlements. Subsequent Habitat Conferences occurred on a 20-year cycle, with the the third in Quito in 2016 (Habitat III).

With its focus on sustainable urban development, Habitat II came at a critical time in global history. Taking place less than one year after the UN’s fiftieth anniversary, Habitat II was the last UN Conference of the twentieth century and established the world’s human settlements strategies for the first two decades of the twenty-first century.

The decision to hold Habitat II was made at the 47th Session of the General Assembly on  December 22 1992 in resolution 47/180 which stated that “a world-wide conference with broad, multidisciplinary and high-level participation could provide a suitable forum for considering the current situation in the planning, development and management of human settlements.” (1) In the 20 years since Habitat I, the world population had increased from about 4.2 billion to about 5.7 billion, with nearly one third under 15 years of age and an increasing number of people living in cities, although the rate of population growth was on the decline. By the turn of the century it was estimated that humankind would reach a tipping point where over 50 percent of the population would live in urban areas (2).

These sobering statistics were on the agenda at various United Nations conferences in the 1990s including the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, the Social Summit in Copenhagen in 1995, and the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. According to the Habitat II Secretary General Wally N’Dow, this series of global conferences was “invaluable in raising awareness about human and environmental conditions around the world and in committing national Governments and the international community to ameliorate the worst of those conditions.” (3) Habitat II would cap off the decade of UN Conferences that would be instrumental in shaping the world’s development agenda for the coming years (4). As noted in resolution 47/180, the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development opened the doors for Habitat II as it “recognized the proper management of human settlements as a prerequisite to the attainment of the overall goals for sustainable development, the centrepiece of which must be the human being.” (5) This mirrored the relationship between Habitat I and the UN Conference on Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972.

Objectives of the Conference

The Conference had the following objectives:
1. In the long term, to arrest the deterioration of global human settlements conditions and ultimately create conditions for achieving improvements in the living environment of all people on a sustainable basis, with special attention to the needs and contributions of women and vulnerable social groups whose quality of life and participation in development have been hampered by exclusion and inequality, which affect the poor in general
2. To adopt a general statement of principles and commitments and formulate a related global plan of action suitable for guiding national and international efforts through the first two decades of the next century (6)

The Conference would then:
1. Review trends in policies and programmes undertaken by countries and international organizations to implement the recommendations adopted by Habitat: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements
2. Conduct a mid-term review of the implementation of the Global Strategy for Shelter to the year 2000 and make recommendations for the attainment of its objectives by the target date
3. Review the contribution to the implementation of Agenda 21 of national and international action in the area of human settlements
4. Review current global trends in economic and social development as they affect the planning, development and management of human settlements, and make recommendations for future action at the national and international levels
5. The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) would be the designated secretariat for Habitat II (7)

(1) General Assembly resolution 47/180, United Conference on human settlements (Habitat II), A/RES/47/180, 22 December 1992.
(2) United Nations. Report of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), A/CONF.165/14, 7 August 1996, p. 32.
(3) United Nations. Progress Report of the Secretary-General of the Conference on the Activities of the Conference Secretariat, A/CONF.165.PC.3/3, 15 November 1995, p. 2.
(4) “Habitat II: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements”, Countdown to Istanbul, Number 2, April 1995, p. 10.
(5) General Assembly resolution 47/180, United Conference on human settlements (Habitat II), A/RES/47/180, 22 December 1992.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Ibid.

A three-year preparatory phase leading up to the Conference was planned to establish all necessary logistics, to determine key issues and to make draft recommendations for action at the international, national and regional levels

March 3-5 1993: Resolution 47/180 established a Preparatory Committee (PrepCom), open to participation by all Member States, to oversee preparations for the Conference. PrepCom held its first organizational session at United Nations headquarters in New York City from March 3 to 5 1993 to develop an annotated provisional agenda. The Committee elected Mr. Robert Lloyd Wenman of Canada as Chairman of the Committee by acclamation (8). The PrepCom invited Member States and observers of the United Nations to submit written proposals to be considered, where practical, by the Commission on Human Settlements (CHS) at its fourteenth session when drawing up recommendations on substantive topics for the Conference. The CHS was invited to draft guidelines for consideration and adoption by the PrepCom. Rules of procedure for the accreditation of participating NGOs was also formalized (9).

April 11-22 1994: At the first session of the PrepCom held in Geneva it was decided that focal points or national agencies in each country would be encouraged to establish national steering committees with membership drawn from a broad base of interested groups and representative organisations. By March 1995, 79 countries had either already formed national committees or were in the process of doing so. 42 of these countries had submitted Progress Reports informing the Habitat II Secretariat of their preparatory plans and ongoing activities that their respective governments, ministries, NGOs and local authorities (10).

April 1994: The Housing Development Administration of Turkey was designated as the organization responsible for the coordination and implementation of preparations for the Conference. The Administration would carry out this task under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Turkey. In October 1994, the Habitat II Project Coordination Unit was established. Initially, $10 million was allocated by the host country for preparations with an additional $25 million allocated for preparing the physical facilities for the Conference. In June 1995, the Istanbul Organizing Committee was established comprising the heads of all relevant central and local government branches (11).

April 24-May 5 1995: The PrepCom held its second substantive session at the UN Office at Nairobi. The session was attended by the representatives of 122 states, a delegation from Palestine, 13 UN programmes and organizations, seven specialized agencies, six intergovernmental organizations, 68 non-governmental organizations and representatives from local authorities. The PrepCom took note of the significant progress made since its first session and focused its attention on the substantive and political aspects of the preparatory process, most notably: (A) The plan of action of the Conference – the document entitled “Statement of principles and commitments and global plan of action” – designed to guide national and international efforts in the field of shelter and sustainable human settlements development through the first two decades of the next century (B) Organizational aspects of the Conference and its rules of procedure (C) Preparations at the national, regional and international levels (D) Criteria for nominating and selecting best practices for improving living environments (12).

During the second session, the PrepCom presented a “Draft Statement of Principles and Commitments and Global Plan of Action” dated January 16 1995. The process of creating the Draft was explained in the document’s introduction: “First a structural framework for the Global Plan of Action (GPA) was developed that incorporated substantive and procedural directives from the General Assembly, the Preparatory Committee, and the Commission on Human Settlements. Second, professional staff of UNCHS (Habitat) was engaged in an interactive process of formulating the guidelines which allowed the secretariat to unify the elements of the GPA. Third, a Habitat Advisory Panel of over 300 experts, political leaders and agency heads from around the world was asked to review and comment on the design guidelines.” (13)

UNCHS (Habitat) also produced a status report on human settlements that was presented to the Preparatory Committee as A/CONF.165/PC.3/3/Add.I and the main text as A/CONF.165/PC.3/CRP.2. They also produced a report identifying the interrelationships between other major United Nations conferences and Habitat II titled From Vancouver to Istanbul: Persistent Problems, Common Goals, Shifting Approaches. In response to a decision made at PrepCom II, the Secretariat consolidated the findings of these major reviews and reports into one report, The Future of Human Settlements: Good Policy Can Make a Difference, which focused on land, finance, infrastructure, environment, transport and energy, governance, and institution-building. As requested by both the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Settlements, a global report on the state of human settlements was also prepared titled An Urbanizing World: Global Report on Human Settlements 1996 (14).

July 17-21 1995: The first inter-sessional meeting of the PrepCom’s Informal Drafting Group (IDG) took place at the UN Office at Nairobi. The IDG was composed of two representatives from each regional group of countries and six representatives of the major groups, who were responsible for creating the draft statement of principles and commitments and the global plan of action. The document resulting from this process was to be circulated at least six weeks prior to being presented at PrepCom 3 to all governments, UN programmes and organizations, specialized agencies and organizations representing key actors of civil society and partners in the Conference’s preparatory process. It was also made available to the general public through the internet. Comments were received from all of the above-mentioned organizations and institutions, and were distributed to the IDG prior to its second inter-sessional meeting in Paris (15).

October 9-13 1995: The second inter-sessional meeting of the PrepCom’s IDG was held in Paris. The draft document to emerge from this meeting was to be submitted for review and negotiation to PrepCom 3. In addition to the 16 members of the IDG, representatives of 31 Member States, 6 UN organizations and agencies, the OECD, the European Commission, and several associations of NGOs were present at the meeting in Paris (16).

February 5-6 1996: PrepCom held its third session at UN HQ in New York. The meeting presented the last opportunity for member states to refashion the Habitat Agenda before the Committee finalized the text (17).


In parallel to the official UN Conference, a series of meetings and events was organized to enable governments, NGOs and a broad range of community organizations to discuss their roles in improving human settlements.

Forum on Human Solidarity: Bringing together leading professionals, academics and intellectuals, the Forum stressed that progress towards more livable and humane cities would require more than a ‘bricks and mortar’ response to housing problems. Forum participants proposed guidelines for a sustainable urban planet through human solidarity, including children’s special needs, local governments, education at all levels, special attention to vulnerable groups, priorities in public transportation, basic services for the poor, health-related environmental issues, social equity and effective public consultations (18).

Habitat II NGO Global Forum: Held from June 1 to June 13 at the Istanbul Technical University, in parallel to the Conference and convened by the ad hoc Habitat II NGO/CBO International Facilitating Group (19). Approximately 8,000 people from 2,400 organizations attended the NGO Forum including many from the host country Turkey. Material was presented at booths and tables and the Forum also featured hundreds of seminars on topics ranging from gender in development to the use of GIS computer mapping (20).

Dubai International Conference for Habitat II on Best Practices in Improving Living Environments: Held from November 19 to 22 1995 in Dubai (21).

Self-financing International Trade Fair: Organized by the host country of Turkey, in conjunction with Habitat II, on the theme of innovative, low-cost, appropriate and environmentally sound products, services and technologies in the field of human settlements (22). The trade fair was the largest of its kind ever hosted by Turkey (23).

The World City of Istanbul and Housing and Settlements in Anatolia: Two exhibitions organized by the Economic and Social History Foundation of Turkey as commissioned by the Habitat II, both held at Istanbul’s Ottoman Mint (24).

Best Practices Initiative for Improving the Living Environment: Instigated as part of the country reporting process, countries could submit reports on the original, innovative, and successful projects and programmes that they had initiated. The projects would then be featured in an exhibition organized by the Habitat II secretariat at a renovated warehouse on the Istanbul waterfront (25). Countries were encouraged to organize national competitions and exhibitions on “Best Practices” in sustainable human settlements development and management. As of November 15 1995, the secretariat had received 314 submissions for best practices from 72 countries (26). Ultimately, 12 award-winning best practices were selected for special recognition (out of over 600 that were submitted for consideration) and displayed at the exhibition (27).

Mayors’ Colloquium: The Habitat II Secretariat actively promoted meetings among civic leaders and municipalities in order to obtain the commitment of mayors and city governments to cooperate regionally and globally to improve city management. The Mayor’s Colloquium was held in August 1994 in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and was attended by more than 100 mayors, city associations and government officials responsible for local government from 36 countries who endorsed the importance of active participation of local governments in the Habitat II preparatory process (28).

Habitat Dialogues for the 21st Century: This series of day-long thematic dialogues was organized to bring together eminent thinkers, public personalities, business leaders, practitioners and professionals to discuss and exchange ideas on Trends for the Future of Human Settlements. Each dialogue was designed to “capture attention and raise awareness on crucial issues which will affect how we live on our urbanized planet.” (29)

1995: The Learning Year: Habitat II partners were provided with an opportunity to focus global and regional attention on human settlements issues that were of specific importance to them. These activities formed the calendar of events entitled “The Learning Year” and a document titled “Calendar of Event: Report on The Learning Year”, dated December 11, 1995 was prepared by the Conference Preparatory Committee for its third session in New York City (30).

Youth for Habitat II: Youth Groups came together at the World Summit for Social Development to discuss their participation in Habitat II and organized themselves as an umbrella group titled Youth For Habitat II. This group was assigned regional focal points (in Africa, Asia, North America, Latin America, Newly Independent States, Europe and Turkey) and participated in both sessions of the Preparatory Committee. The Habitat II secretariat, working with Youth for Habitat II, developed a guide for governments and national committees to bring youth into the country preparatory process. Suggested activities in the guide included: information exchange, networking, publicity and awareness raising, empowerment of youth organizations, promotion of relevant research and analysis, production of information material and organization of consultations on youth and human settlements issues. As a result, youth groups in several countries actively participated in Habitat II preparatory activities (31).

Publications: Publications including eight issues of the newsletter Countdown to Istanbul as well as the publication Habitat Debate were produced for Habitat II. Several books were also published, including: Cities for people, Local Authorities: Custodians of the Environment  and The Changing Urban Landscape. Several global reports were published in 1996 (32).

Partner Forums: In addition to the NGO Global Forum, various Partner Forums were organized, all taking place at the Marmara Hotel in Istanbul in the days before the opening of the Conference. Each Forum had a preparatory process of its own and a debate on relevant issues and adoption of a statement. These Forums included: the World Assembly of Cities and Local Authorities ( May 31 and June 1), the Forum of National Academies of Science (May 31 and June 1) and The Forum of Parliamentarians (May 30 and June 2). A Private Sector Forum for Habitat II, coordinated by the Progressio Foundation of the Netherlands, ran from May 30 to June 2, just prior to the Conference. As part of this, a meeting of mayors of Africa’s fastest growing cities with the private sector entitled “Expanding Investment Frontiers in African Cities”, was hosted by the mayor of Accra, Ghana, in November 1995 with the support from UNDP (33).

Round Tables: From June 3 to 7 1995 a daily series of nine thematic round-tables (open to the public) was organized. Each would feature a debate and panel relating to the recommended strategies for the implementation of specific issues including: people on the move (migrations, exclusions, affluence); making a living (economic opportunities, employment); civic engagement (citizenry and social organization); urban physiology (water, energy, sewage, waste, health and the environment); changing urban forum (megacities, urban networks); moving about the city (transport, communication); a place to live (house, home, our public spaces); doing by learning (new formats of education, role of media); governance and democracy (partnerships for action) (34).

(8) United Nations. Report of the Preparatory Commission for the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), A/48/37, 9 March 1993, p. 10.
(9) Ibid. 10.
(10) Habitat II: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, Countdown to Istanbul, p. 9.
(11) United Nations. Sustainable Development and International Economic Cooperation: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), A/50/519, 13 November 1995, p. 18.
(12) Ibid. 2-3.
(13) United Nations, Draft Statement of Principles and Commitments and Global Plan of Action, A/CONF.165/PC.2/4, 16 January 1995, p.2.
(14) Ibid. 41.
(15) United Nations, Sustainable Development and International Economic Cooperation, p. 4.
(16) Ibid.
(17) Ibid.
(18) United Nations, Report of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), A/CONF.165/14, 7 August 1996, p. 177.
(19) United Nations, Sustainable Development and International Economic Cooperation, p. 17.
(20) “The Habitat II Conference: Moving Slowly Toward Sustainable Cities”, Urban Ecology,, last accessed January 10, 2018.
(21) Habitat II: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, Countdown to Istanbul, p. 10
(22) United Nations, Sustainable Development and International Economic Cooperation, p. 18.
(23) Turkish Housing Development Administration Habitat II Coordination Unit, Habitat II newsletter, Number 1, January 1996, p. 7.
(24) United Nations, Sustainable Development and International Economic Cooperation, p. 18.
(25) “The Habitat II Conference: Moving Slowly Toward Sustainable Cities”, Urban Ecology.
(26) United Nations, Progress Report of the Secretary-General, p. 7.
(27) “The Habitat II Conference: Moving Slowly Toward Sustainable Cities”, Urban Ecology.
(28) Habitat II Secretariat, “On the Road to Istanbul”, Signpost Number 1, 12 January 1994, p. 2.
(29) United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, “Habitat Dialogues for the 21st Century”, January 1996, p.2.
(30) United Nations, “Calendar of Events: The Learning Year” A/CONF.165/PC.3/INF.5, 11 December 1995.
(31) United Nations, Progress Report of the Secretary-General, p. 8.
(32) Ibid.
(33) Ibid. 14.
(34) United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, “On the Road to Istanbul: How We Propose To Operate the Istanbul Conference”, no date, p. 4.

Habitat II, the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, took place from June 3 to 14 1996 in Istanbul and was attended by delegations from 171 nations, other government officials, and representatives of accredited NGOs. At the core of the event were the official negotiating sessions attended by the delegations and representatives of accredited NGOs who were also allowed to attend (35).

The Conference was declared open by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The Conference elected by acclamation as President of the Conference, His Excellency Mr. Süleyman Demirel, President of the Republic of Turkey. The Conference then adopted the provisional agenda, approved its organization of work and carried out the election of officers other than the President including Vice-Presidents, Rapporteur-General and Committee Chairmen (36).

The Conference held a general exchange of views on the state of human settlements, including strategies for their improvement (agenda item 8) at the 1st to 12th plenary meetings, from June 3 to 11. The Conference was addressed by representatives of states, specialized agencies, intergovernmental organizations and other entities, non-governmental organizations, local authorities and observers for associate members of the regional commissions, as well as United Nations bodies, programmes and offices. (37)

At its first meeting on June 3, the Committee established two working groups: Working Group I to consider chapters I to III and sections A to D of chapter IV of the draft Habitat Agenda, and Working Group II to consider sections E and F of chapter IV. At its second meeting on June 4, the Committee decided to establish an informal open-ended drafting group on the Istanbul Declaration (38). At its third meeting on June 4, the Committee elected a Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the two Working Groups (39). At its fourth meeting on June 4, a ceremony was held to present awards to the winners of the Best Practices Initiative. Statements were made by the UN Secretary-General; the Governor of the Municipality of Tokyo, Mr. Yukio Aoshima; the Director-General of the Municipality of Dubai, Mr. Qassim Sultan; and the Secretary-General of the Conference, Dr. Wally N’Dow (40).

As set out in document A/CONF.165/3, agenda item 9 (goals and principles, commitments of action) was allocated to Committee 1. The Committee held five meetings from June 3 to 14 to consider amendments to the draft Habitat Agenda. The Working Groups and the Informal Open-ended Drafting Group on the Istanbul Declaration held a number of informal meetings throughout the session (41).

As set out in document A/CONF.165/3, agenda item 10 (role and contribution of local authorities, the private sector, parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations, and other partners in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda) was allocated to Committee II, known as the Partners’ Committee. According to the report, “In the view of many participants, the Partners’ Committee was the most exciting feature of Habitat II. For the first time at a major conference of the United Nations, eminent representatives of the different components of civil society, identified on the ‘Road to Istanbul’, were given the opportunity to assemble in their own partners’ forums and present their views and commitments to delegates at the Conference in an official forum created especially for that purpose – Committee II.” (42)

At its second and third meetings on June 5, Committee II held hearings involving mayors and representatives of international associations of local authorities who had participated in the World Assembly of Cities and Local Authorities. At its fourth meeting on June 5, Committee II held hearings involving representatives of the World Business Forum. At its fifth meeting on June 5, Committee II held hearings involving representatives of the Foundations Forum. At its sixth meeting on June 6, Committee II held hearings involving representatives of the Parliamentarians Forum. At its seventh meeting on June 6, Committee II held hearings involving representatives of the Academies of Science and Engineering Forum and the Professionals and Researchers Forum. At its eighth meeting on June 7, Committee II held hearings involving representatives of the Labour Unions Forum. At its eighth and ninth meetings on June 7, Committee II held hearings involving representatives of the United Nations system concerning the participation of their organizations in the strategy for implementing the Habitat Agenda. At its tenth and eleventh meetings on June 10, Committee II held hearings involving representatives of non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations. At its twelfth and thirteenth meetings on June 11, Committee II held hearings involving representatives of the Habitat Dialogues for the Twenty-first Century, the Forum on Human Solidarity and the Wisdom Keepers Forum. At its fourteenth meeting on June 13, Committee II adopted its report as contained in document A/CONF.165/L.5 and Add.1-11. (43)

(35) United Nations, Report of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), p. 123.
(36) Ibid. 126-127.
(37) Ibid. 130.
(38) Ibid. 136.
(39) Ibid.
(40) Ibid. 135.
(41) Ibid. 133.
(42) Ibid.
(43) Ibid. 135-137.

On 14 June 1996, the Conference adopted the Istanbul Declaration and Habitat Agenda. The strategy of the Declaration and Agenda was “based on enablement, transparency and participation. Under this strategy, government efforts are based on establishing legislative, institutional and financial frameworks that will enable the private sector, non-governmental organizations and community groups to fully contribute to the achievement of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development.” (44)

Habitat II was “hailed as the conference of partnerships” (45) because it was the “first UN conference to give a special official voice to representatives of civil society and was especially notable for its strong emphasis on alliance-building and on innovative ideas.” (45) Not only did Habitat II provide NGOs with access to the conference process, but it allowed the NGOs, local authorities, the private sector and other groups to participate in the deliberations through the work of Committee II. Altogether more than 2,500 NGOs took part in the Conference as full partners, although without the right to vote (46). For more information on this unique element of Habitat II, see the section on Committee II in the Report of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), pages 138-229.


Report of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II). The 229 page PDF download is available at and in this website’s Habitat II Document Archive.

  • Chapter 1 (p. 5-10): The Declaration of Principles, also known as The Istanbul Declaration, a fifteen paragraph Declaration in which governments highlighted the following seven main priorities of the Habitat Agenda: unsustainable consumption and production patterns, particularly in industrialized countries; unsustainable population changes; homelessness; unemployment; lack of basic infrastructure and services; growing insecurity and violence; and increased vulnerability to disasters.
  • Chapter II (p. 12-120): The Habitat Agenda, or the Conference’s global plan of action, was intended as a global call to action at all levels and a guide aimed at achieving sustainable development of the world’s cities, towns and villages in the first two decades of the next century. The Agenda contains a statement of goals and principles, a set of commitments to be undertaken by governments and final strategies for implementing the plan of action.
  • Chapters II to VIII (p. 121-229): Attendance and organization of work; general exchange of views on the state of human settlements and strategies for their improvement; committee reports; report annexes.

(44) United Nations, Report of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), A/CONF.165/14, 7 August 1996, p. 33
(45) United Nations, Habitat Agenda and Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements Summary: Road Map to the Future, October 1996, p. 2.
(46) Ibid.
(47) Ibid.