Universal Declaration of Human Rights @ 60+ logo
Gathering a body of global agreements
logo of United Nations Conference on Human Settlements

  United Nations


un logo

United Nations Conference on Human Settlements

11 June 1976

black line

[Recommendations from the Vancouver Plan of Action, June 1976]

The Vancouver Action Plan. B. Settlement planning


1. Planning is a process to achieve the goals and objectives of national development through the rational and efficient use of available resources. Thus plans must include clear goals and adequate policies, objectives and strategies along with concrete programmes.

2. Planning activities should promote and guide development rather than restrict or simply control it. Imaginative planning should be stimulative and anticipatory; in many cases it might have to remain open-ended and in all cases it should consider options and be based on the best available information and forecasting of demographic, social, economic and technological trends.

3. Although a strict hierarchical order is inappropriate for understanding the network of human settlements and the levels of decisions required to act upon them, it may be convenient to assume that planning is conducted at different scales of geographical coverage: national, regional, local and neighbourhood. To achieve balanced development, planning decisions taken at one level must be related and complementary to those taken at other levels, both "above" and "below", and appropriate machinery must be devised to resolve potential conflicts between them.

4. Planning also operates over significantly different time spans, from a few years up to a generation and more. Decisions taken at one level and within a time framework may have important consequences at another level and on a broader time perspective. The longer the horizon, the more important it is for settlement planning to remain flexible in order to adapt to changing priorities or conditions.

5. In this constant process of adjustments and reconciliation, the notion of region becomes central to settlement planning as a unit smaller than the national whole but larger than the individual settlement itself, however big that may be. More and more countries are faced with the problems posed by metropolitan regions, centred around a very large urban complex, but sometimes spreading until they become contiguous with others. Other regions, especially in the third world comprise predominantly rural populations and require equal, although different, attention in planning terms.

6. In developing countries most people live in rural areas and will continue to do so notwithstanding considerable movement to urban areas. Given the urgent need to improve the quality of life of these people, which have been hitherto relatively neglected, planning and development of rural settlements should become a focus of national development policies and programmes. National cultures have strong roots in the villages, and form a vital resource of great potential in development and therefore must be recognized in development strategies. Growth, change and social transformation have meaning only if they touch rural peoples. Planning for rural settlement development must be holistic and on a local basis within regions so as to mobilize and use all available resources.

7. However, the majority of planning decisions and their implementation will continue to occur at the level of the individual settlement. Planning of individual settlements is oriented to solve the problems derived from the relationship between the environment, and the political, social and economic context, in a continuous process of change and mutual adjustment. The physical ambit of planning of individual settlements is concerned with the best use of the present stock - through renewal, rehabilitation and other forms of improvement - and the integration of marginal or peripheral settlements or the creation of new ones. The relative emphasis on each approach will depend on local circumstances, social values and political priorities.

8. Human settlement planning must seek to improve the quality of the life of people with full respect for indigenous, cultural and social needs. Settlement planning and implementation for the purpose of prolonging and consolidating occupation and subjugation in territories and lands acquired through coercion and intimidation must not be undertaken and must be condemned as a violation of United Nations principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

9. Planning is no less important at the community level where the direct involvement of residents in the decisions affecting their daily lives can be achieved most effectively. At this, and the neighbourhood level, it is essential that planning and design be at the human scale and so contribute to good personal and social relationships in settlements.

10. Finally, planning is crucial in the wake of natural emergencies, such as those resulting from natural or man-made disasters, there the meeting of immediate needs must be reconciled with the achievement of long-term goals.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.1 Settlement planning in national context

  1. Human settlements do not just happen. They are the result of a multitude of needs and decisions, both public and private. The challenge of planning is to see that such decisions are explicit and coherent, are part of an over-all effort to resolve conflicts and achieve social justice and the best utilization of resources. These are essential to an improved quality of life.

  2. Settlement and environmental planning and development must occur within the framework of the economic and social planning process at the national, regional and local levels.

  3. Special emphasis should be placed on:

    1. Promotion of balanced development for all regions;

    2. A unified development planning approach which attributes to human settlements their proper place by treating them as an integral part of the development process rather than a residual, and by stressing the human settlement implications of other sections of development plans;

    3. Recognition of the difficulties inherent in a truly comprehensive approach and the need to evolve and employ suitable methods and procedures, adapted to actual conditions and subject to continual improvement;

    4. Planning as a continuing process and must be effectively linked to institutions which implement the actual development of settlements.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.2 Indigenous planning models

  1. The character of a nation is made visible in its settlements. Foreign models must not dominate planning decisions which should be guided by national goals and implemented by local people making the best possible use of indigenous resources, within the context of local culture and environment.

  2. Settlement planning should reflect national regional and local priorities and use models based on indigenous values.

  3. Special emphasis should be placed on:

    1. Ensuring that national goals and objectives are reflected in human settlement planning, in particular social justice, employment opportunities, economic self-sufficiency and cultural relevancy;

    2. Actively supporting research and training in appropriate technologies required for settlement planning and development;

    3. Demonstrating the advantages of local planning approaches based on appropriate values, in particular through pilot projects;

    4. Bringing planning and planners in close contact with the people, with particular reference to the expressed needs and aspirations of the poor and other disadvantaged and the potential for self-determination.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.3 Availability of resources

  1. Too often in the past, human settlement planning has lacked realism. This not only fails to take account of resource limitations but often wastes the few resources actually available, especially human initiative and imagination.

  2. Settlement planning should be based on realistic assessment, and management, of the resources actually and potentially available for development.

  3. It is essential that.

    1. Availability of resources be placed in an appropriate time context, corresponding to short, medium and long-term development goals;

    2. Assessment of the present situation be thorough and frank, without minimizing

      difficulties, potential conflicts or need for change;

    3. A comprehensive national ecological and demographic inventory be prepared to guide long-range settlement planning;

    4. Planning of physical and social structures and the pursuit of socio-economic goals should be realistic but not determined solely by current availability of resources, although this affects the time span needed to achieve these objectives;

    5. Evaluation of alternatives be based on broad criteria, truly reflecting social and environmental values, development objectives and national priorities;

    6. Potential for innovation be recognized, particularly in social and technical systems;

    7. Special technical and managerial skills be developed and motivated;

    8. Capacities of handicapped, and other disadvantaged groups be recognized as a resource.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.4 Scope of national settlement planning

  1. Some planning decisions are of national importance. Although requiring local, regional and sectoral inputs, they must ultimately be made at the national level.

  2. Settlement planning at the national level must be concerned with the co-ordination of those developments, activities and resources that have national significance. These are particularly, the general distribution of population, the significance of development of certain economic sectors, and certain infrastructure components.

  3. This would include:

    1. Designation of major types of land use and their potential;

    2. Location of major sources of sustained and productive employment;

    3. Definition of a coherent set of relationships between settlements or groups over the territory;

    4. Introduction of regions as an intermediate level of planning, where local interest can be reconciled with national objectives;

    5. Identification of regions or areas requiring special attention: those that are particularly deprived, offer unusual potential, or need special protection;

    6. Outlining the principal infrastructure network as well as the broad distribution of social services;

    7. Provision for elements of vital importance for health and survival, especially clean and safe water, clean air and food.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.5 Regional planning for rural areas

  1. Regional planning is an essential tool for reconciling and co-ordinating the objective of urban and rural development. A major planning problem in predominantly rural areas is the economical provision of employment opportunities, adequate services, and infrastructure to widely dispersed populations.

  2. Planning for rural areas should aim to stimulate their economic and social institutions, improve general living conditions, and overcome disadvantages of scattered populations.

  3. The following should be considered:

    1. Development of a system of intermediate settlements with sufficient dynamism to counteract the attraction of the great metropolises;

    2. Designation of towns of appropriate size as social, economic and cultural centres for their rural hinterland;

    3. Development of growth poles for relatively undeveloped regions, contingent on development potential and local aspirations;

    4. Designation of rural development regions of many villages, with boundaries reflecting socio-economic and ecological relationships, to aid provision of efficient and economical facilities and services;

    5. Schemes for village amalgamation and programmes of shared services and facilities which cannot be provided to dispersed populations;

    6. The need to save land from excessive exploitation of national and regional resources;

    7. Creation of new employment opportunities and increasing economic productivity to reduce the disparities between rural and urban areas;

    8. Development of rural regional institutions responsible for settlements planning.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.6 Regional planning for metropolitan areas

  1. Megalopolises and other large urban areas are an increasing phenomena. Their nature and their relationships with surrounding rural areas, are extremely complex. Only effective comprehensive regional planning can cope with this complexity.

  2. Planning for metropolitan regions should aim at an integrated approach over the territory affected by the metropolis, and include all major functions.

  3. Urgent measures include:

    1. Provision of institutions and a revenue base commensurate with their role. This could be a metropolitan tier of government or a special planning authority to deal with a cluster of interrelated problems requiring an integrated solution;

    2. Modification of the boundaries of metropolitan areas, as well as of local government units within those areas, to correspond to functional and natural limits.

    3. Co-ordinated provision of food, water and energy supplies, transportation, disposal of solid and fluid waste, pollution control measures, education and health delivery systems;

    4. Protection of regional ecology.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.7 Scope of local planning

  1. Individual settlements of all sizes must be guided in their orderly development by plans reflecting local requirements and conditions. This should occur within the framework set by national and regional planning.

  2. Local planning must be concerned with social and economic factors, and the location of activities and the use of space over time.

  3. This means in particular:

    1. Designation of general land-use patterns and changes over time;

    2. Location of main activities with special attention to their relationships;

    3. Provision of infrastructure networks and systems required to link activities on the basis of economy, safety, convenience and environmental impact;

    4. Definition of basic standards reflecting the needs of the people, to eliminate waste and achieve an equitable distribution;

    5. Recognition of the need to phase and direct development through the timely provision of concentrated infrastructure and services, and the deferral of such provision in areas not yet appropriate for urban development;

    6. The need to eliminate personal alienation and isolation and social and economic segregation;

    7. Formulation of social and economic programmes of development.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.8 Improving existing settlements

  1. Settlement planning cannot merely focus on new urban development for many settlements already exist. The improvement, renewal and rehabilitation of these settlements should therefore be continuous. They thus present a major challenge in improvement of quality of life, and of the existing fabric of settlements. When ill-conceived it may result in the destruction of the economic and social fabric of entire neighbourhoods.

  2. Settlements must be continuously improved - renewal and rehabilitation of existing settlements must be oriented to improving living conditions, functional structures and environmental qualities. The process must respect the rights and aspirations of inhabitants, especially the least advantaged, and preserve the cultural and social values embodied in the existing fabric.

  3. Special attention should be paid to:

    1. Upgrading and preserving the existing stock through the development and use of low-cost techniques, and the direct involvement of the present inhabitants;

    2. Undertaking major clearance operations only when conservation and rehabilitation are not feasible and relocation measures are made;

    3. Providing for the welfare of the affected inhabitants especially with respect to employment opportunities and basic infrastructure;

    4. Preserving the area's social and cultural fabric which may be the only de facto source of social services including care of children and the aged, maternity care, apprenticeship, employment information and security.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.9 Urban expansion

  1. Expected population growth and migration mean that urban expansion will be the most common and universal development challenge. However, urban expansion can take the form of urban sprawl, and it is then costly, wasteful and ecologically destructive.

  2. Urban expansion should be planned within a regional framework, and co-ordinated with urban renewal to achieve comparable living conditions in old and new areas.

  3. It requires special provision for:

    1. Securing legislation, legal instruments and regulations;

    2. Institutions for management of land acquisition and development;

    3. Securing fiscal and financial resources;

    4. Active participation of a well-informed public;

    5. Protection of ecosystems and critical land;

    6. Improved development of existing urban land use through innovative and creative measures;

    7. Integrated development of basic services, facilities and amenities;

    8. Employment opportunity and access to work places;

    9. Integration and improvement of squatter and marginal settlements.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.10 New settlements

  1. The expansion and renewal of existing settlements is sometimes not appropriate, and new settlements can then be appropriate. They can also serve to stimulate under-developed regions or be associated with exploitation of specific resources.

  2. New settlements should be planned within a regional framework, to achieve national settlement strategies and development objectives.

  3. Special attention should be paid to:

    1. The use of new settlements to improve and harmonize the structuring of national settlements network;

    2. Relating new settlement programmes to the renewal and expansion of existing settlements;

    3. Integrating the new settlements with regional and national plans, particularly with regard to the distribution of employment;

    4. Flexible phasing of programmes over time to accommodate important changes in the rate of growth, age structure and social composition of the population;

    5. Applying innovative social and physical design concepts and technologies, including architecture at the human scale;

    6. Avoiding social problems, especially social segregation and isolation;

    7. Establishing optimum densities according to indigenous needs and means, and in accord with the social and cultural characteristics of the inhabitants.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.11 Individual rural settlements

  1. Just as all human settlement planning must be an integral part of national development planning, so planning for individual rural settlements must be part and parcel of planning for general rural development in a region or nation.

  2. Planning for the improvement of individual rural settlements should take into account the present and expected structure of rural occupations, and of appropriate distribution of employment opportunities, services and facilities.

  3. Particular attention should be paid to:

    1. Appropriate location of market places, community centres, potable water supply, health and education facilities and transport services including loading terminals;

    2. Respect for local customs and traditions as well as to new needs and requirements;

    3. Use of local resources and traditional techniques and styles of construction.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.12 Neighbourhood planning

  1. The special interests of children and their parents, the elderly and the handicapped, come into focus at the neighbourhood level.

  2. Neighbourhood planning should give special attention to the social qualities, and provision of facilities, services and amenities, required for the daily life of the inhabitants.

  3. Particular emphasis should be given to:

    1. Needs of children and their parents, the elderly and the handicapped;

    2. Community involvement in the planning, implementation and management of neighbourhood schemes;

    3. Better integration of neighbourhood development, housing and facilities;

    4. Readily accessible facilities and services;

    5. Preservation of traditional patterns of relationships consistent with current aspirations;

    6. The links between neighbourhood planning and other planning levels.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.13 Temporary settlements

  1. Temporary settlements, such as those for limited resource exploitation, construction camps, and those resulting from emergencies, are sometimes inevitable. However, such settlements often have a tendency to survive long after their original purpose.

  2. Planning for temporary human settlements should provide for community needs, and the integration of such settlements, where appropriate, into the permanent network of settlements.

  3. This may be achieved by:

    1. Providing suitable shelter and services;

    2. Phased integration into existing settlement networks as appropriate;

    3. Allowance for growth and change in functions of buildings and related services;

    4. Continuous assessment of the economic and social viability of temporary settlements.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.14 Planning for disasters

  1. Too many settlements are destroyed or badly damaged as a consequence of natural or man-made disasters. Some natural disasters can be predicted, at least in part, and precautionary measures taken to save lives and reduce material loss. But until methods of forestalling natural disasters are improved, and until war is eliminated, Governments are faced with the problems of reconstruction and rehabilitation of severely damaged settlements.

  2. Planning for human settlements should avoid known hazards which could lead to natural disaster. The planning of reconstruction after natural or man-made disasters should be used as an opportunity to improve the quality of the whole settlement, its functional and spatial pattern and environment.

  3. In particular by:

    1. Improving the technologies to forecast and mitigate the effects of disasters;

    2. Providing for pre-disaster training in disaster-prone areas;

    3. Establishing agencies with adequate authority and skills to undertake the immediate relief and long-term reconstruction of the whole settlement of the area;

    4. Providing for the basic needs of the affected population, especially the temporary or permanent relocation of survivors, and the involvement of survivors in related plans and programmes.

    5. Providing for a National Disaster Fund;

    6. Co-ordinating the use of all local, national and international resources for prevention and reconstruction;

    7. Learning from the lessons of similar experiences for planning before, during and after disasters.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.15 Settlement concerns of mobile groups

  1. Almost all people choose to live in a fixed habitat. There are, none the less, important groups or people in many countries who have a traditional culture based on frequent or regular movement from one place to another within a broader area. The unique habitat needs of such groups must receive consideration taking into account their cultural values.

  2. The spatial, social, economic and cultural needs of mobile groups must receive special planning attention at local, as well as regional and national levels.

  3. This must involve:

    1. Development of special means of identifying the needs of these groups;

    2. Training and counselling for those persons or groups which choose freely to settle in one or a few locations;

    3. Development of special facilities and techniques to provide health and education services;

    4. Assistance with shelter - fixed or portable - food and water, consistent with cultural values;

    5. International co-operation in developing appropriate government responses.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation B.16 Planning processes

  1. If human settlement planning is conceived in static and prescriptive terms, it can become an obstacle to balanced development geared to meet changing realities and rising aspirations.

  2. Planning at all scales must be a continuing, process requiring co-ordination, monitoring evaluation and review, both for different levels and functions as well as feedback from the people affected.

  3. It is essential that:

    1. Planning be comprehensive, timely and action-oriented;

    2. Planning be backed by firm political commitment to action;

    3. Reviews of the planning process should not be isolated exercises for planning must continually evolve;

    4. Planning information be exchanged between all levels of government, and sectors of society, not just officials and professionals.