In this issue

The United Nations Committee on Human Settlements

The Committee on Human Settlements (CHS) focuses on environmental issues such as housing, rural and urban settlements

By Harold Takooshian, PhD, and Peter R. Walker

Since the very origins of the United Nations in 1945, the UN has invited committees of experts into its vast network of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), to partner with its agencies like UN Habitat to work on timely issues. At UN headquarters in New York City, the Conference of NGOs (CoNGO) currently has 22 committees spanning a wide array of topics (s). Though these registered NGOs number about 3,000 in year 2011, it is only in the past decade that psychologists have been involved much in these NGOs, through a dozen psychology groups (Takooshian & Shahinian, 2008)-- like the International Council of Psychologists (ICP) since 1981, and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) since 1987 (Cherry, Ellingwood & Castillo, 2011).


The NGO Committee on Human Settlements (CHS) focuses on environmental issues such as housing, rural and urban settlements (Walker, 2005). Its mission is described in more detail below. CHS started after the first World Urban Forum in Vancouver, Canada in 1976. This was the first of five WUFs: WUF2 in 1996 in Istanbul, WUF3 in 2006 in Vancouver, WUF4 in 2008 in Beijing, WUF5 in Rio de Janeiro in 2010.


For years, CHS has met monthly in New York City, and is described in detail at webmaster Rick Sanford's website, – its aims, activities, officers, resources. Interested individuals can join the free monthly CHS listserv on request. CHS is an interdisciplinary committee that brings together experts from all sorts of groups – realty, business, social science, architecture, religion, culture, urban planning. A few psychologists have recently served as elected officers of this interdisciplinary CHS, including Drs. Peter Walker and Harold Takooshian (Chair for 2007-2008).


One key activity of CHS since 2005 is to host a monthly lecture series prior to its business meeting. A few psychologists have been among the 30 speakers in recent years – Drs. Robert V. Levine on urban psychology, consultant Arline L. Bronzaft on the NYC Noise Code, Peter R. Walker on defensible space, Harold Takooshian on greenroofs, Andy F. Troy on social networking.


Another key annual activity occurs on the first Monday of October marks UN World Habitat Day (WHD). CHS partners with Habitat to arrange a NYC forum on that year's global theme. For example, to mark 2010 World Habitat Day on October 4, the Committee hosted a forum on the theme "Better cities, better lives" (Rahilll, 2011). This report can be downloaded from the APA website.


The mission of CHS is in part, "to monitor... the implementation of commitments set forth in the Habitat Agenda [link 1 below] of the Conference on Human Settlements, and Agenda 21, particularly Chapter 7, "Promoting Sustainable Human Settlements" [link 2] of the Conference on the Environment and Development and relevant elements from plans of action or other United Nations conferences that promote the provision of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world, e.g., Goal 7 Target 11, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) [link 3]. Our interests include the development of proposals and recommendations of strategies which support the effective participation of all citizens in cooperative ventures to create and maintain sustainable communities and healthy livelihoods...." Along with these highlighted documents, three of UN Habitat's major initiatives may interest readers: the United Nations Housing Rights Program, Habitat's gender policy, and the Global Campaign on Urban Governance.

1. Shelter

The United Nations Housing Rights Program (UNHRP) was launched in April 2002, as a joint initiative by UN-HABITAT and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The establishment of the program was a direct response to the United Nations Commission on Human Settlements resolution 16/7 and United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolutions 2001/28 and 2001/34, all of which called upon the two agencies to elaborate a United Nations Housing Rights Program (secure tenure) [link 4], and human rights perspectives [link 5].

2. Gender equality

UN-HABITAT's Gender Policy has three overall objectives: (a) To promote women's equal rights and women's empowerment internationally within the area of human settlements development; (b) To support governments, NGOs and other partners in capacity building and development in order to mainstream gender equality in human settlements development; (c) To mainstream a gender perspective throughout the Programme's activities [link 6].

3. Urban governance

The Global Campaign on Urban Governance began in 1999 to support the implementation of the Habitat Agenda goal of "sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world." The campaign's goal is to contribute to the eradication of poverty through improved urban governance. There is a growing international consensus that the quality of urban governance is the single most important factor for the eradication of poverty and for prosperous cities. This campaign aims to increase the capacity of local governments and other stakeholders to practice good urban governance. The campaign focuses attention on the needs of the excluded urban poor. It promotes the involvement of women in decision-making at all levels, recognizing that women are one of the biggest levers for positive change in society [link 7].


  1. Habitat Agenda
  2. Agenda 21
  3. Goal 7
  4. Tenure rights
  5. Human rights
  6. Gender equality
  7. Governance


  • Cherry, F., Ellingwood, H., & Castillo, G. (2011). “Cautious Courage:” SPSSI’s Connections and Reconnections at the United Nations. Journal of Social Issues, 67(1), 165-178.
  • Rahill, K. (2011, winter). World Habitat Day 2010 forum in New York City. International
  • Psychology Bulletin, 15 (1), 27-29. Takooshian, H., & Shahinian, S.P. (2008, Oct.).
  • Psychology at the United Nations: A brief history.Psychology International, 19 (4), 1-2.
  • Walker, P. (2005). Human Settlements and urban life: A United Nations perspective. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, 14, 55-61