Bridging the Gap: Spirituality and Sustainability in the Urban Context
Organized in cooperation with the InterSpiritual Centre of Vancouver Society
The round-table discussions were chaired by Ms. Angela Hryniuk, Executive Director, Interspiritual Centre of Vancouver Society, Canada and moderated by Ms. Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Executive Director, Global Community Initiatives, Montpelier, United States of America.
The 30-member panel explored the role of spirituality in urban sustainability. Ms. Barbara Charlie, Mackmacklaut, Elder, Squamish Nation, opened proceedings with an opening prayer in which she said that no matter what nations people came from, they were all one. The Chair spoke about the efforts made to include spirituality in the programme of the Third Session of the World Urban Forum.
A three-minute period of meditation was held.
Presentations were made on various aspects of the topic by Mr. Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogotá; Dr. Samuel Luboga, Deputy Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Makerere University, Kampala; Mr. Surinder Kumar, General Manager, Management Services Group, Sahara India Pariwar, India; Ms. Mae‑Chee Sunsanee Sthirasuta, Buddhist nun and spiritual leader, Thailand; and Hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr., Chief Executive Officer, United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, Seattle, United States of America, and International Coordinator, Four Worlds International.
It was stressed that a good city was one that promoted human happiness, and that the ultimate goal of human beings was achieving happiness. Participants expressed delight that spirituality was being discussed at a forum organized by the United Nations. They observed that too much money was being spent on armaments, particularly by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. They further noted that important changes did not have to do with money, but with how people could change their ways of life. They stressed the importance of the soul. In addition, they observed that all great religions taught how to make people happy and that happiness had to do with the development of human potential: a bird was happier when set free than when in a cage.
It was emphasized that human beings could dream, create a vision and achieve it. In that context, participants called for the use of the built environment to support human happiness. Vision extended beyond technical rationality and political agenda to include the landscape of the spirit.
It was pointed out that millions of people were migrating to cities in order to escape rural poverty. Unfortunately, many of them were often trapped by the rapid urbanization of poverty. Noting that spiritual development was a basic need of human beings regardless of any religious practice, participants called for the inclusion of spirituality in all UN-Habitat conferences. In that connection, it was observed that the round table was itself a significant development.
The round table closed with mantra chanting and songs accompanied by First Nations drums.