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United Nations Conference on Human Settlements

11 June 1976

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

The Vancouver Action Plan. C. Shelter, infrastructure and services


1. The fabric of human settlements consists of physical elements and services to which these elements provide the material support.

2. The physical components comprise shelter, i.e., the superstructures of different shape size, type and materials erected by mankind for security, privacy and protection from the elements and for his singularity within a community; and infrastructure, i.e. the complex networks designed to deliver to or remove from the shelter people, goods, energy or information. Services cover those required by a community for the fulfilment of its functions as a social body, such as education, health, culture, welfare, recreation and nutrition.

3. Shelter, connected to infrastructure and provided with services, makes up individual settlements at different scales: the dwelling units, the cluster of dwelling units, the neighbourhood, the village, the town the metropolis. Another kind of infrastructure establishes connexions between settlements, to form networks at the regional, national and international levels.

4. The quality of life is obviously determined by the availability and quality of these components. The overriding objectives of settlement policies should be to make shelter, infrastructure and services available to those who need them, in the sequence in which they are needed and at a monetary or social cost they can afford. Social justice depends on the way in which these facilities are distributed among the population and the extent to which they are made accessible.

5. The needs for shelter, infrastructure and services are nearly always greater than the capacity of public authorities to provide them. That is why, throughout the world but especially in the developing countries, people have traditionally provided housing and rudimentary services for themselves and will continue to do so in the future. The establishment of standards and the allocation of resources should reflect this basic fact.

6. In providing shelter, infrastructure and services to meet the needs of the population, the issue of location is extremely important. Time is a resource whose use must be planned as well as that of space to which it is related. If the improvement of the quality of life in human settlements is to become a reality, housing must be close to employment, schools and clinics must be placed near the dwelling, food production must be associated with food consumption. and so on.

7. The provision of shelter, infrastructure and services also raises technological issues in terms of choices between alternative combinations of inputs to obtain a required output. Many vital decisions in this area are taken early in the process, i.e. at the design stage, although their implications are far-reaching in terms of future use, employment generation, income distribution, import dependence or social, environmental and cultural impact. Other decisions concern the construction process itself, which, in a majority of countries, accounts for two thirds of total fixed capital formation and employs up to one worker out of five.

8. But the production of the asset, be it a house, class-room or mile of road, is only the beginning of a long process during which, the asset, if it is to retain its usefulness, must be maintained, repaired, adapted, renovated and eventually demolished. Choices concerning standards, materials and technology should consider resource requirements over the whole expected life of the asset and not merely the monetary cost of its initial production.

9. In the fields of education, health, nutrition and other social services, the accent should be on relevance and justice, the latter being inseparable from the former. Especially in the third world, institutionalized services tend to place excessive emphasis on quantitative measurements of delivery and material supports, and not enough on the quality of the service itself and the equality of access by those most in need of it.

10. Human settlements constitute the framework within which satisfaction is given to the needs and aspirations of peoples in consonance with the principles of human dignity. The realization of this objective requires the promotion of three principles: employment generating activities; activities to satisfy the needs of shelter, infrastructure and services; and activities necessary to encourage the public participation in the solution of these problems. These activities should be planned in co-operation with all interested sectors acting in an integrated and co-ordinated manner.

11. The provision of shelter should be recognized as only one element in providing for living in a community. The concept of shelter should therefore be seen as embracing planning and construction in a wider context - something much greater than building of houses - to include planning for life in a community. This should include provision for living space, for work, for education and for social relationships within the community. In building programmes and in providing infrastructure and service facilities for the community, Governments should promote the community's cultural heritage, such as building styles in representative zones, open space usage, and historical monuments. In undertaking new construction, the authorities should endeavour to conserve all those values which might promote, increase and guarantee equilibrium between the natural landscape and the human activities in the environment.

12. Regarding the choices for alternative uses of energy, dependence on sources of energy currently known to be hazardous to the environment should be considered in the context of its environmental impact and in conformity with national development priorities.

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Recommendation C.1 Comprehensive approach to shelter, infrastructure and services

  1. Shelter, infrastructure and services, are three principal components of human settlements. They are physically, economically, environmentally, socially and culturally interrelated. Though it may not always be possible or necessary to supply them simultaneously they will be more costly and less appropriate if planned in isolation from one another.

  2. Shelter, infrastructure and services should be planned in an integrated way and provided in the sequence appropriate to circumstances.

  3. This objective can be achieved by:

    1. Prior announced decisions, advance planning and sufficient lead time to provide the framework for actual development and provision of shelter, infrastructure and services in proper sequence;

    2. Phasing development over several stages and regulating the flow of financial resources in accordance with the sequence of operations envisaged in each phase;

    3. Encouraging the formation of consortia and co-operativye arrangements among the main development agents, both public and private, for better scheduling and co-ordination of operations;

    4. Development of new budgetary techniques and improvement in existing techniques to reflect changes in programmes over time, to present financial data in spatial terms and to secure budgets in an integrated way.

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Recommendation C.2 Shelter, infrastructure and services as tools of development

  1. Shelter, infrastructure and services are not only essential for meeting basic human needs; they are also tools for improving living conditions, achieving social justice, shaping the pattern and character of settlements, and creating employment opportunities.

  2. In meeting essential human needs the provision of shelter, infrastructure and services must be geared to achieving the over-all objectives of national development.

  3. Special emphasis should be placed on:

    1. Employment generation by using labour-intensive construction in areas with abundant human resources, and by a combination of settlement improvement with measures creating permanent employment opportunities;

    2. Redistribution of income to achieve equity and social justice;

    3. Opening of new frontier areas and utilization of untapped natural resources;

    4. Massive and effective mobilization of financial material and human resources, including the encouragement of voluntary activity, for deployment in programmes and projects, e.g. in rural public works;

    5. Combination of the preceding measures along with effective training programme.

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Recommendation C.3 Standards for shelter, infrastructure and services

  1. The seriousness and realism of a nation's commitment to its social objectives are reflected also in the standards it sets for shelter, infrastructure and services.

  2. Standards for shelter, infrastructure and services should be compatible with local resources, be evolutionary, realistic, and sufficiently adaptable to local culture and conditions, and be established by appropriate government bodies.

  3. In particular they should:

    1. Be based on the assessment of felt needs and priorities of the population rather than the adaptation of imported requirements;

    2. Be tested in real life conditions and reflected in public sector programmes which have powerful demonstration effects;

    3. Be evolutionary to accommodate changing needs of society, progress in technology and shifting patterns in the availability of resources;

    4. Conserve scarce resources and reduce the dependence on foreign technologies, resources and materials:

    5. Give prominence to the human dimension through active public participation in their elaboration and application;

    6. Include, in disaster-prone areas, preventive measures conceived so as to minimize loss of life, injury and destruction.

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Recommendation C.4 Designs and technologies for shelter, infrastructure and services

  1. There is a wide range of choices in the search for an adequate response to expressed needs in terms of shelter, infrastructure and services. Some of these decisions concern the form, composition and location of the components of human settlements, others relate more specifically to the combination of inputs required to obtain a given output but all have a determinant effect on the quality of life in human settlements.

  2. The choice of designs and technologies for shelter, infrastructures and services should reflect present demands while being able to adapt to future needs and make the best use of local resources and skills and be capable of incremental improvement.

  3. The solutions arising from such choices should therefore be:

    1. Evolutionary and innovative in character in order to keep pace with national development and the discovery of new techniques and materials;

    2. Based on the best possible use of available local materials and local resources within a process of constructive rationalization allowing for the effective use of locally existing know-how and unskilled labour in countries with abundant manpower, thereby generating employment and income;

    3. Simple to understand, adapt and apply;

    4. Conceived to utilize traditional techniques suitably adapted to new materials;

    5. Emerging from original indigenous research;

    6. Planned so as to take full account of their environmental impact;

    7. Open to the possibility of harmonizing technical norms to facilitate international co-operation;

    8. Sensitive to the needs of the handicapped;

    9. Sensitive to the requirements of family life.

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Recommendation C.5 Energy

  1. Human settlements are consuming more and more energy just when mankind has become aware of the need to cease environmentally degrading and wasteful use of non-renewable energy resources.

  2. The efficient utilization of energy and its various mixes, should be given special consideration in the choice of designs and technologies for human settlements, especially the relative location of work places and dwellings.

  3. This may be achieved by:

    1. Reducing energy consumption by chances in land-use planning, building design, living patterns and appropriate transportation systems including emphasis on mass transportation;

    2. Identifying and developing new sources of energy, and promoting more efficient use of energy resources, for example through innovative approaches in design and management and through financial and other incentives for energy conservation and through disincentives for wasteful consumption;

    3. Adapting techniques for the production of building materials, for building construction and for the operation of buildings to lower energy requirements, taking into account initial and maintenance costs as well as environmental and social considerations;

    4. Emphasizing where possible the use of renewable over non-renewable energy sources and the rationalization of technologies which are currently known to be hazardous to the environment;

    5. Design and use of systems which are less susceptible to power failures over large areas due to disasters;

    6. Developing and implementing special small-scale power generating, delivery and use systems more appropriate for water supply, rural electrification, and district heating and cooling, including the utilization of solar and geothermal energy and heat pumps as appropriate.

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Recommendation C.6 Long-term cost of shelter, infrastructure and services

  1. The expense of design, manufacture and installation of shelter, infrastructure and services are only partial measures of the true cost of assets which are usually long-lasting.

  2. In choosing alternatives for shelter, infrastructure and services account should be taken of their social, environmental and economic costs and benefits including that of future management, maintenance and operations as well as capital costs.

  3. This requires:

    1. A revision of current budgeting methods which separate capital from operating costs;

    2. Changes in public lending and subsidy policies to reflect total cost and provide incentives to minimize it;

    3. A review of cost accounting methods to calculate total cost;

    4. The exchange of experience and the systematic collection of information on maintenance and operating costs of alternative designs placed in different geographic, climatic and social contexts;

    5. In disaster-prone areas an awareness that additional building costs required for safety are offset by reduced loss of life and property and the continuity of services;

    6. Consideration for the durability of structures, especially in cases of transitional occupancy, and for the education of owners/occupants as to the proper care of shelter units:

    7. The establishment of a methodology for measuring the quality of life standards achieved within each alternative in terms of efficiency and equity.

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Recommendation C.7 National construction industry

  1. The development of an indigenous construction industry is still an untapped resource in many nations where genuinely local firms, small or large, are often in need of assistance.

  2. The special importance of the construction industry should be recognized by every nation and the industry should be given the political, financial and technical support it requires to attain the national objectives and the production targets required for human settlements.

  3. Special attention should be given to:

    1. Removing obstacles to the development of the local construction industry;

    2. Establishing performance standards suited to local requirements and capable of being met by local industry;

    3. Simplifying formal procedures so that they can be clearly understood and followed by local entrepreneurs;

    4. Expanding the training of local entrepreneurs, especially in the field of contract management and procedures;

    5. Providing finance, guarantees and, if necessary, selective subsidies to local industry, particularly at the early stages;

    6. Achieving the human, social and environmental objectives established by each community.

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Recommendation C.8 Construction by the informal sector

  1. The scale and nature of requirements for shelter, infrastructure and services in many countries is such that even with government help the modern construction sector is inadequate for the task. The so~called "informal sector" has proved its ability to meet the needs of the less advantaged in many parts of the world, despite the lack of public recognition and assistance.

  2. The informal sector should be supported in its efforts to provide shelter, infrastructure and services, especially for the less advantaged.

  3. Priority areas for action include:

    1. Ensuring security of land tenure for unplanned settlements where appropriate or if necessary providing for relocation and resettlement with opportunity for employment;

    2. Facilitating and promoting the development of the informal economy;

    3. Providing sites and services specifically for construction by the informal sector, and taking the informal sector's spatial and locational requirements into account in all sites and services schemes;

    4. Providing technical and financial assistance, including access to long-term financing, for low-income households to increase popular participation, self help and other means of self-reliance;

    5. Improving government administrative structures and procedures to facilitate and guide the action of the people in improving their own settlements;

    6. Restructuring the system for marketing and distributing of building materials and tools to favour purchase in small quantities at irregular intervals and under easy credit terms;

    7. Providing financial and technical assistance;

    8. Simplifying and adapting building and licensing codes without sacrificing recognized basic health requirements.

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Recommendation C.9 National housing policies

  1. In many parts of the world the cheapest available conventional contract built housing is too expensive for the majority of households; on the other hand, publicly provided housing because of the limited available resources can only provide for a small fraction of the real need.

  2. National housing policies must aim at providing adequate shelter and services to the lower income groups. Distributing available resources on the basis of greatest needs.

  3. Measures to be considered include:

    1. Serviced land supplied on a partial or total subsidized basis;

    2. Low interest loans, loan guarantees and subsidies for housing construction and improvement of the existing housing stock;

    3. Increased public role in renting, leasing and home improvement schemes;

    4. Rent subsidies based on family needs and income;

    5. Improved availability of housing alternatives, e.g. low cost rentals near job opportunities, core housing, communal housing, mobile homes and so on;

    6. Government assistance concentrated on provision of resources and facilities which households cannot provide for themselves;

    7. Deployment of local savings through credit institutions;

    8. Protect local values and support traditional and self-help construction;

    9. Measures to overcome factors which contribute to under-utilization of the existing housing-stock and to promote an equitable use of it.

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Recommendation C.10 Aided self-help

  1. The majority of dwellings being built in the third world today are being provided by the occupants for themselves, either alone or with assistance from small contractors and/or neighbours.

  2. A major part of housing policy efforts should consist of programmes and instruments which actively assist people in continuing to provide better quality housing for themselves, individually or co-operatively.

  3. Some important measures include:

    1. Development of programmes for regularizing tenure and for adequately promoting popular subdivisions properly serviced and at prices accessible to low income people;

    2. Simplification of procedures for acquisition of sites, short-and long-term finance, building permits and codes, and zoning;

    3. Provision of infrastructure, on a partially or totally subsidized basis, in conjunction with shelter being provided by the people for themselves;

    4. Incentive to the imaginative use of local materials, e.g. through demonstration projects and construction of prototypes suitable to local conditions;

    5. Stimulation of co-operatives for housing, infrastructure and services.

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Recommendation C.11 Infrastructure policy

  1. The unequal distribution of wealth between population groups, within human settlements and between urban and rural settlements is exacerbated by the inequalities in access to goods, services and information.

  2. Infrastructure policy should be geared to achieve greater equity in the provision of services and utilities, access to places of work and recreational areas, as well as to minimize adverse environmental impact.

  3. This implies:

    1. Enforcement of minimum and maximum standards of infrastructure for all segment of the population;

    2. More efficient use of resources and elimination of excessive consumption through development and implementation of maximum standards, education, conservation and other appropriate measures;

    3. Active use of pricing policies as a mechanism for improving equity in access to infrastructure for all segments of the population;

    4. Integration of infrastructure networks with overall human settlement development to facilitate access, in particular by linking the provision of infrastructure to that of shelter and related services;

    5. In disaster-prone areas the policy should be to conceive and build infrastructure in ways which are less vulnerable;

    6. The provision of infrastructure in rural areas should be conceived to serve the needs of the rural population, good production processing and distribution

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Recommendation C.12 Water supply and waste disposal

  1. In the less developed countries, nearly two thirds of the population do not have reasonable access to safe and ample water supply, and even a greater proportion lack the means for hygienic waste disposal.

  2. Safe water supply and hygienic waste disposal should receive priority with a view to achieving measurable qualitative and quantitative targets serving all the population by a certain date: targets should be established by all nations and should be considered by the forthcoming united nations conference on water.

  3. In most countries urgent action is necessary to:

    1. Adopt programmes with realistic standards for quality and quantity to provide water for urban and rural areas by 1990, if possible;

    2. Adopt and accelerate programmes for the sanitary disposal of excreta and waste water in urban and rural areas;

    3. Mobilize popular participation, where appropriate, to co-operate with the public authorities in the construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure;

    4. Plan water supply and the sanitary disposal of waste together in the framework of national resource planning;

    5. Reduce inequalities in service and access to water as well as over-consumption and waste of water supply;

    6. Harmonize and co-ordinate the interests and efforts of local governments and other public bodies concerned through the appropriate planning by the central Government;

    7. Promote the efficient use and reuse of water by recycling, desalination or other means taking into account the environmental impact;

    8. Take measures to protect water supply sources from pollution.

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Recommendation C.13 Waste management and prevention of pollution

  1. The growing amount of waste material is one of the by-products of urbanization, industrialization and the consumer society; the environmental hazards it creates together with the need to economize resources, has rendered profligate waste-generating life styles obsolete.

  2. In the development of human settlements the quality of the environment must be preserved. Pollution should be prevented by minimizing the generation of wastes; wastes which cannot be avoided should be effectively managed and whenever possible turned into a resource.

  3. This may be achieved through:

    1. Adoption of pollution control measures including incentives and disincentives for location of waste-generating enterprises, and measures to selectively discourage production of materials which add unnecessarily to the waste load;

    2. Better use of existing technology and development of new technology to reduce the volume of waste material generated, along with better design and choice of materials destined to become waste;

    3. Innovative use of unavoidable waste as a by-product;

    4. Treatment of effluents and emissions, rodent control, and special measures for control of radio-active waste to reduce danger to persons, animals and plants;

    5. Use of waste material as fill, where environmentally acceptable, especially in areas with a scarcity of land suitable for human settlements, and for increasing the amount and productivity of certain agricultural lands;

    6. Use of sources of energy which have a low or no waste production;

    7. Re-exploration of traditional uses of waste materials and study of their potential uses in contemporary society;

    8. Creation of a special fund, with the participation of industries which generate wastes or pollutants, for establishing recycling mechanisms, or other suitable measures:

    9. Combating the lack of vegetation in arid zones and increasing at the same time food supplies by combining the highly developed technologies of industrial plant production and composting of refuse.

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Recommendation C.14 Transportation and communication

  1. Consideration should be given to the radical reversal of current trends, both in terms of facilities for and modes of transport in order to prevent further deterioration of the situation where large cities are congested with private vehicles which in most countries cater only to a minority while adequate public transport is unavailable to urban and rural residents.

  2. Policies on transportation and communication should promote desired patterns of development to satisfy the needs of the majority of the population, to assure the distribution of activities to favour mass transportation, and to reduce congestion and pollution by motor vehicles.

  3. This could be achieved through:

    1. A more deliberate use of land-use planning and policies for the location of traffic generating activities, in order to minimize the need for travel:

    2. A comprehensive approach to the planning and development of transportation networks;

    3. The active development of a system of public transportation with adequate incentives for its use in preference to individual use of motor vehicles;

    4. The provision of public subsidies for modes of transport suitable for serving isolated settlements;

    5. The consideration of innovative modes of transport and communications suited to the needs of children, the elderly and the handicapped;

    6. Provide for the separation of pedestrian and motor circulation, as well as separate paths for bicycles, and other categories of vehicular traffic;

    7. Over the short-term, transportation improvements should be designed to make more efficient use of existing highways and transit systems;

    8. Innovative transportation systems need to be encouraged for reducing energy consumption and conserving resources and avoiding pollution;

    9. The integration of communications and transport networks to enable the former to assume many of the responsibilities carried by the latter;

    10. The study of new techniques to avoid the air and environmental pollution caused by the present automobile system.

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Recommendation C.15 Social services

  1. In the third world only from one tenth to one fifth of the population are provided with adequate health services. At least one fifth of children are suffering from various degrees of malnutrition and a much larger proportion of the total population is without access to medical or para-medical services. Less than half of the children and adults needing education are receiving it.

  2. The provision of health, nutrition, education, security, recreation and other essential services in all parts of the country should be geared to the needs of the community and receive an effective priority in national and development planning and in the allocation of resources.

  3. Areas for priority action include the following:

    1. National equalization programmes and subsidies to provide equitable geographic and social accessibility to all segments of the population;

    2. Reorientation of legislative, institutional and financial measures, with the object, in particular, of bringing about the involvement of the people in meeting their own needs:

    3. Decentralization of the administrative and financial machinery in order to provide a greater measure of management at the community level;

    4. Delivery of social services on an integrated basis with common use of staff, equipment and premises, in particular through the development of multipurpose service centres:

    5. Priority orientation of the above actions towards the promotion of health and the prevention of malnutrition, communicable diseases and other avoidable health risks and the provision of essential services and spiritual and physical recreational facilities;

    6. Adequate provision for health, mobility, education and training needs of the handicapped and aged, as well as the provision of social services for the physical and emotional well-being of children, especially those living in conditions of poverty;

    7. Effective co-operation between specially appointed reference groups at local, regional and national levels, which should serve as a forum for exchange of views between officials and organizations dealing with issues affecting people with handicaps.

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Recommendation C.16 Services for rural areas

  1. For reasons of cost effectiveness the traditional approach to community services more often favours concentrated population, leaving the rural population at a disadvantage. Provision of services in rural areas will help to reduce the migration to urban areas.

  2. Governments should develop new criteria for integrated rural planning to enable the greatest possible number of scattered and dispersed rural settlements to derive the benefit from basic services.

  3. Special measures may include:

    1. Promoting the concentration of rural population and consolidation of scattered and dispersed clusters and homesteads in rural areas for provision of adequate service facilities;

    2. Promoting the establishment of service centres in appropriate locations in the rural regions to benefit the maximum possible number of people in each area;

    3. New approaches to education to adapt it to the needs of training and informing the rural population, including complementing traditional methods and channels with audio-visual aids;

    4. Training of semi-professional staff drawn from the area to be serviced.

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Recommendation C.17 Reorganization of spontaneous urban settlements

  1. Residents of "spontaneous" or unauthorized settlements frequently organize with the intention of providing their communities with essential minimal services; however, some services are very difficult for households or neighbourhood communities to obtain without assistance.

  2. Governments should concentrate on the provision of services and on the physical and spatial reorganization of spontaneous settlements in ways that encourage community initiative and link "marginal" groups to the national development process.

  3. Special attention should be given to:

    1. Giving public recognition to positive aspects and encouraging new initiatives;

    2. Provision of appropriate forms of public assistance to individual or cooperative self-help efforts:

    3. Encouraging public participation by providing financial, technical, informational and other forms of incentives;

    4. Assisting in technical and administrative guidance for community services;

    5. Provision of special services to newcomers to facilitate their adjustment, integration and absorption;

    6. Provision of adequate housing to migrant workers with easy access to community facilities and services;

    7. Provision of essential social services in temporary settlements for workers, for construction of permanent settlements or special projects situated far from the permanent settlements.

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Recommendation C.18 Recreation

  1. As our cities continue to grow, there is an increasingly important basic human need to be provided for, in physical, mental and spiritual benefits to be derived from leisure and recreation. Leisure well used in constructive recreation is basic to the self-fulfilment and life enrichment of the individual, strengthening the social stability of human settlements, both urban and rural, through the family, the community and the nation. Providing opportunities for the pursuit of leisure and recreation, both physical and spiritual, in human settlements, improves the quality of life, and the provision of open space and facilities for leisure should be a concern of high priority.

  2. National governments should co-ordinate and co-operate with the efforts of local and regional authorities and organizations in the planning, development and implementation of leisure and recreational facilities and programmes, for the physical, mental and spiritual benefit of the people.

  3. This may be achieved by:

    1. Developing criteria for determining the national, regional and local recreation requirements to meet the leisure needs of the people,

    2. Establishing channels for popular participation by public agencies and private groups;

    3. Including adequate provision for recreation and leisure needs of both resident and transient populations by setting aside land for open space, play areas, social and cultural centres;

    4. Providing training programmes at all educational levels to develop leadership in recreation and leisure activities from community neighbourhood to national levels;

    5. Encouraging recreational activities appropriate to local cultures, first utilizing existing resources of personnel, outdoor and indoor space, then ensuring the increasing availability of a greater variety of resources through programmes of development;

    6. Providing access to natural landscapes and wilderness areas, while ensuring that such areas retain their qualities unimpaired.