The following is adapted from a statement of the Baha'i International Community to the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), held 17-20 October 2016 in Quito, Ecuador.
Urbanization in its current incarnation is not a process that can continue indefinitely. Large-scale migration to urban centers has, in many cases, led to social fragmentation, the depletion of limited ecological resources, and profound feelings of isolation and despair. The path forward is not to be found in simply aggregating larger and larger numbers into smaller spaces. Rather, it calls for a holistic approach to human settlements that enables individuals and communities to thrive in urban and rural settings alike, providing for the needs of both and drawing on the strengths of both.
Progress in this direction will require conceptions of life in rural and urban settings to be thoroughly reimagined, drawing on the accumulated knowledge of the past, the scientific advances of the present, and a compelling vision of the future. Insights from the field of psychology, for example, clearly demonstrate that people thrive in communities that are characterized by trust and interconnection. Human happiness--which impacts productivity, physical health, and mental acuity--is at its peak when personal relationships are strong. The close friendships and sense of mutual reliance among neighbors that have traditionally been associated with rural communities is an element of life that should be strengthened, not forgotten.
Building healthy and prospering settlements is a formidable task that will require learning and effort for generations to come. Cities and villages will need to provide economic opportunities and means for young people to support themselves and build livelihoods according to their skills and talents. Communities of all kinds will also need to nurture many additional aspects of human well-being, such as social inclusion and cohesion, intergenerational solidarity, equitable distribution of resources, and meaningful connections to the land and the natural world.
How are such qualities to be fostered within a population? In the experience of the worldwide Baha'i community, a number of elements seem critical to the creation of flourishing settlements, whether in urban areas or rural ones.
Reviving the concept of community
Prominent among these is an explicit concern with reviving the concept of community. The idea is...