About Habitat

This website is part of an extended research project for an upcoming book (2015, Black Dog Publishing, London) on Habitat Forum and the associated UN conference in Vancouver, 1976. Were you at Habitat? Please leave comments and memories here!

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I attended the UN Habitat World Urban Forum 7—the conference that is a descendent of Habitat 1976 in Vancouver—in Medellín, Colombia, from April 5-12 2014 as part of research for my book. Check my blog post on that event.

In Medellín I interviewed a number of people who remember the celebrated 1970s mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa, who served as the Secretary General of Habitat I in Vancouver in 1976. I also met with UN officials who are carrying on the work of UN Habitat today to talk about its current concerns and future direction. Major Habitat conferences happen every 20 years. Habitat 1 was in Vancouver; Habitat II was held in Istanbul in 1996; Habitat III will take place in an as yet unnamed city in 2016.

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A plaque  in honour of the late Alan Clapp was unveiled Thursday, October 24, 1 pm at 1290 Cartwright Street on Granville Island. The Granville Island Business and Community Association honoured Alan for his role in the inception of Granville Island. NOTE: The plaque will be installed permanently in late 2014.

RIP Al Clapp February 10, 1930 – April 9, 2013. 

For those who knew Alan or are interested in his life, a profile of him can be read here. His obituary in the Globe and Mail is here. There was a celebration of his life at the Granville Island Hotel on Sunday May 5, attended by many of Al’s friends and colleagues from his time at BCTV, Granville Island, Habitat Forum and beyond.

You were a good friend, Al, and are really missed. For those who didn’t know Al Clapp, you may not know that Habitat Forum would never have happened without his unhesitating vision and dogged determination and general bullheadedness. 

I’d also like to reassure all those who sent messages in to Al Clapp that they were all read to him. He was thrilled to hear from you all. Thanks so much for writing in.

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For more information on the project, see the contact page.

Habitat Forum, and its parent event the United Nations Habitat Conference on Human Settlements, took place in Vancouver, Canada from May 31-June 11, 1976. The conference was also known as “Habitat I” and it provided the foundation for the United Nations’ agency known as UN Habitat (though technically it was only officially opened two years later in 1978). The conference was largely framed by one of the founders of the field of sustainable development, Barbara Ward, and it was attended by such names as Margaret Mead, Mother Teresa, Buckminster Fuller, Paolo Soleri, Maggie and Pierre Trudeau and many others.

This year 2011, when this website was launched, marked Habitat’s 35th anniversary, which also happened to fall on Vancouver’s 125th birthday. For those of us who were in many ways formed by Habitat, it was a good year to look back on the legacy that Habitat left for Vancouver and its citizens. Despite the fact that Vancouver’s beautiful vintage moderne hangars were demolished after Habitat, the event’s legacy still lives on in subterranean yet influential ways. Were you at Habitat? Please leave comments here.

Note: 2011 also marked Greenpeace’s 40th birthday! The massive international organization was born in Vancouver, and many of its early founders were involved in Habitat. In fact, famous anti-whaling expeditions were launched off the Jericho Wharf at the Habitat site in 1975 and 1976. Habitat ended June 11, 1976, and that weekend, June 12-13, Greenpeace ran benefit concerts and the launch from the decorated hangars. You can read about this in Rex Weyler’s book Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World. Happy Birthday, Greenpeace.

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The UN Habitat Conference on Human Settlements, also known as Habitat I was at that time the largest conference the UN had ever assembled. It was the first time the world community ever met to discuss the growing challenges of urbanization, the accelerating human migration from rural to urban areas, urban problems including clean water, sanitation, poverty and homelessness, as well as the nascent field of sustainable urban design.

This site is part of a long book research project on Habitat Forum and the larger UN Habitat Conference by writer Lindsay Brown. The site exists as a means to both share a portion of the growing Habitat archive and to encourage the community to contribute their own Habitat materials—memories, stories, photographs, film, memorabilia—in the service of producing a comprehensive public memory of this formative event. If you would like your material to be part of the book, and be credited in it, or better yet interviewed for it, please contact me.

Please leave your memories and comments here. Positive or negative – it’s all welcome.

The full extent of the archive won’t be shown here—it will be collected in the book—but keep checking back for new additions. Thank you for your interest in Habitat.

Above: Habitat Forum’s theatre was a vintage seaplane hangar transformed by a massive mural designed by renowned Haida artist Bill Reid. The building, along with the four other hangars refurbished for Habitat, was demolished by 1980.


Pavilion (in 2 parts) by Arthur Erickson, UN Habitat conference, Vancouver
Above: Not strictly part of Habitat Forum, but clearly consistent with its spirit, was the environmentally friendly Paper Pavilion by Arthur Erickson for Habitat. A very early example of paper architecture, the pavilion’s papier mache panels were made by Vancouver schoolchildren and then assembled into this structure on the Vancouver Courthouse’s North plaza (now the Vancouver Art Gallery).