As 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, more than half of whom live in rapidly growing secondary cities and towns, managing urban growth in a way that improves quality of life for all residents is critical to sustainable development. We must also tackle inequality and address the lack of resources and critical infrastructure. Part of the solution lies in better planning villages and cities. Yet urban planning practice and expertise is limited in the developing world and many of the existing approaches and methods are not adapted to local challenges, traditions, and context.
The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat has developed a holistic approach to Habitat Planning combining urban and rural participatory planning techniques with international best practice and local expertise to help communities to design a better future. AKAH’s approach unites data-driven decision-making with the vision and voice of the community. AKAH works with communities to plan how to make their neighbourhoods, villages and towns safer and resilient and create opportunity for future generations. Through participatory practices and community-led design, the Habitat Plan captures a long-term vision of what the community aspires to be in the future. The Plan includes an analysis of future needs and trends based on existing physical, social, political, environmental, cultural and land-use practices, and proposes a spatial and land-use plan to meet the community’s vision and future objectives.
AKAH is working in over 100 settlements across its five countries of operation to develop habitat plans ranging from urban hubs to regional or provincial capitals to remote villages.
AKAH’s approach is grounded in data and analysis, capturing and synthesizing satellite imagery, field-based data, qualitative surveys and hazard assessments to inform planning. Building on the legacy of community-driven rural development of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programmes, demand-driven participatory planning is a central tenant of AKAH’s habitat planning process. To further build local ownership and long-term sustainability, AKAH works in close collaboration with national and government planning bodies. Capacity building and research are at the core of AKAH's practices, through collaborations with leading academic institutions, private sector and international organisations to draw from and expand on global best practices. AKAH has conducted design studios with MIT, Harvard and Kabul University and is collaborating with UN Habitat to advance planning, policy and design for sustainable urbanisation.
AKAH’s Habitat Planning Framework covers an eight-step process guiding communities and experts through a participatory, data-driven planning, design and implementation process. The framework integrates rural and urban planning best practices; national, regional and local plans and policies; community level plans and knowledge; and hazard, land-use, socio-economic and demographic data. The process starts with scoping and site selection and community and government engagement. This is followed by in-depth habitat assessment of physical, land-use, and socio-economic needs and priorities. AKAH then develops physical designs to address these priorities and works with communities and partners to plan, implement and monitor these actions. The process can be applied to various spatial scales – from the neighbourhood level, to the village, through to a village cluster or sub-district scale – to develop short, medium and long-term plans.
Habitat Assessment Tool
AKAH has developed a digital tool to assess site vulnerability and risk to multiple natural hazards; access to infrastructure; land use patterns; land suitability; environmental, demographic and socio-economic data; and housing and building stock footprints and design. The tool looks at the current situation and forecasts growth and longer-term needs for the region to enable future spatial planning. Combining data from international external sources, sentinel remote sensing data and on-site assessments, the tool provides GIS and Geo-AI analysis and modelling to inform habitat planning initiatives.
Basid, Tajikistan: A Vision for Safe Resettlement
Basid village, located in the mountains of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, Tajikistan faces multiple natural hazards. Located under Lake Sarez, an unstable glacial lake, the village was struck by massive mudflows in 2010 which wiped away many homes and farms and an earthquake in 2015 that caused devasting damage. Fortunately, there is a nearby safe place where the people of Basid can and want to move. They asked AKAH to help them plan this resettlement. Working with the community, the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (AKPIA) at MIT and the design firm, KVA MATx, AKAH developed a plan with design options and recommendations for a phased relocation of this mountain village. The plan provides a flexible and scalable approach for improving access; providing clean water; enriching the land through soil and vegetation conservation; and designing safer and greener homes, community spaces and village layout. MORE INFO
Pul-e-Khumri, Afghanistan: Habitat Assessment for Risk Sensitive Urban Land Use Planning
In early 2021 the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat conducted an urban habitat assessment looking at seismic and other natural hazard risks, building stock vulnerability and land use and zoning in Pul e Khumri, the capital and largest city of Baghlan Province, Afghanistan. Using these assessments AKAH has developed a risk sensitive land use plan for the city, accounting for seismic hazards, water resources, drought sensitivity and other geological, hydrological and climate hazards. The plan categorizes land use for residential, mixed-use, services and green and conservation zones based on hazard, climatic and socio-economic data. Building on this land use plan through a participatory process engaging key stakeholders, AKAH developed a set of policies, recommendations and action plans to strengthen the city's resilience to multiple natural disasters and human crises. Together these measures will inform a resilient master plan for risk-sensitive, low-carbon development. This is the first experience using risk sensitive land use planning in urban areas in Afghanistan
Ishkashim: Pushing the Frontiers of Urban Planning
Ishkashim is a small mountain town in Badakhshan, Afghanistan along the border with Tajikistan, connecting a trade corridor from China to Pakistan. It has a bustling market and strong potential for tourism and economic growth. It is also highly vulnerable to natural hazards, including landslides, avalanches, earthquakes and floods. Inclusive, intelligent and sustainable planning is required to harness these prospects while mitigating the risks and improve the quality of life of all its residents. The town is linked economically, socially, and politically to 20 villages, which together can be considered a single, larger settlement. AKAH’s habitat planning approach considers the future design, planning and development of these settlements together, recognizing the interconnectedness and exchange between urban and rural communities and expanding beyond the traditional context of urban planning. Through a virtual design studio in collaboration with Harvard University and Kabul University, AKAH is testing innovative remote planning approaches to bring world-class planning expertise to Ishkashim. MORE INFO
Khorog, Tajikistan: Resilient Urban Planning in the Pamir Mountains
As one of the highest altitude urban settlements in Central Asia and the administrative center of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), Tajikistan, Khorog faces the challenges of multiple natural and environmental hazards compounded by rapid urbanization. For a town built for 15,000 people with a current population of 40,000 projected to double by 2040, resilient urban planning is critical to securing its future. The Khorog Urban Resilience Programme is a five-year initiative designed to set up the structures, systems and capacity to transform Khorog into a model resilient city, promoting sustainable economic growth and investment. The programme links the plans, structures and investments of the Government of Tajikistan to resilience building and planning initiatives of the community and national and international partners in Khorog. With funding from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, the European Union and the Embassy of Japan, AKAH is working with the Government of GBAO to plan and mobilise resources for a 15-year programme of work to upgrade aging economic, social and health infrastructure. This includes a collaboration with the Committee of Architecture and Construction and UN-HABITAT to upgrade the existing Government approved town plan. AKAH has also completed several key infrastructure projects including extending water supply to underserved areas; reinforcing flood-prone portions of Khorog’s riverbank; and constructing or upgrading schools, playgrounds and a youth center. MORE INFO
Chitrawad, Gujarat, India: Disaster Resilient Village Planning
In Chitrawad village in the Gir-Somnath District of Gujarat, India AKAH is working with the community on a participatory habitat planning process to improve housing and water and sanitation infrastructure while reducing social exclusion and environmental and natural hazard risk. AKAH undertook a community visioning exercise to identify residents’ key priorities for the future development of their village which included: reducing physical vulnerabilities to flooding; creating spaces for social inclusion; and ensuring environmental sustainability of water and waste management. AKAH worked with the community to develop short- and long-term plans to address these issues, aligned with government planning and infrastructure works. Based on these plans, AKAH has reconstructed or repaired 62 houses; improved drainage infrastructure, introduced rainwater harvesting systems and other water management practices to recharge ground aquifers; and implemented wastewater management systems. MORE INFO