Barbara Ward’s famous speech at Habitat I

Habitat '76 - Barbara Ward

It was irregular for a civilian not part of an official delegation to address the UN, but economist and author Barbara Ward spoke at Habitat I. She had after all written the theme books for the conference, Human Settlements: Crisis and Opportunity, and The Home of ManMore on Barbara can be found at IIED, the organization she set up in 1971. Her influence on the Habitat I conference, and on the subsequent development of the concept of sustainable development, cannot be overstated.

While some of the terminology here is outdated, the ideas are still sound, and that can be said of most Habitat I material. The value of the Istanbul Declaration 1996 is that it took Habitat I’s ideas, retained them but updated their language.

A senior fellow at IIED now, David Satterthwaite was Barbara Ward’s assistant at the time of Habitat ’76 and he programmed Habitat Forum. David has written an excellent short history of Ward and sustainable development which I strongly recommend if you’re interested in Ward.

With Habitat III approaching, I thought it was time to watch this speech again. Where are we now? It’s striking how relevant Ward’s ideas still are, and we seem to be circling back to them again.

This video is from official UN conference documentation and is courtesy of UBC Centre for Human Settlements, part of the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning

I met the delighteful David Runnalls at the May 2016 Ottawa memorial for Jim MacNeill, Habitat I’s Commissioner General, after he delivered a fond and entertaining eulogy. His memories of Barbara are equally compelling. One correction – David says that the book they wrote for Stockholm was The Home of Man. That’s the book Ward wrote for Habitat ’76. He means Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet, her theme book for the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Environment, which followed from her earlier book Spaceship Earth.

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