The Urban Guru Website

Listen to the inside history of UN-Habitat in a nine chapter (20 mn each) interview

A personal opinion on the life of the UN City Agency


1. Background (21 mn)
2. History (27 mn)
3. Governance (21 mn)
4. Management (22 mn)
5. Staffing(15 mn)
6. Advocacy (16 mn)
7. Work Programme and Budget (17 mn)
8. Best of UN-Habitat (20 mn)
9. For a Better Future (17 mn)


Music credit: Jacques Chancel's "Radioscopie" theme by Georges Delerue for France Inter (1968-1982)


Tribute to Dr. Ramachandran

I was recruited by Dr. Ramachandran in 1987 (the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, IYSH) to work in the Africa Unit of UNCHS(Habitat) in Nairobi.

Dr. Ramachandran was the first Director of Habitat, the founding father of the UN Centre for Human Settlements. He served for 14 years (1978-1992) to the entire satisfaction of Member States.

He was an adept of strict and vertical management. In term of human resource, he had his favorite staff (as all heads of UN agencies) but was fair with everyone, recognizing excellence and tough on mediocrity. Being a scientist he knew how to count and was on top of UNCHS finance, never overspending, meticulous, maybe too cautious in the oversight of the Foundation (unlike some of his successors). He was not excellent in fund-raising and relied mostly on his senior managers to mobilize resources.

Dr. Ramachandran was not a Human Settlements expert. Being from the South, he was more a shelter-oriented person than an “urban” man. IYSH and then GSS 2000 (adopted in 1988) were his top priorities. Urban governance was not yet on the radar and rural issues were still high on the agenda. Indeed in the 1980s, Habitat was more a Housing (for All) Agency than a (Sustainable) City Agency.

Dr. Ramachandran was a good diplomat, firm and respectful. He was stylish, elegant, and I was often impressed by his calm authority. Always dressed in dark blue suits, he would call you in his office, listen, ask some questions, decide and expect your action and feedback. He was not a dreamer or a talker but a pragmatic leader. We have all been proud to work under this no-nonsense, humble and smart Executive Director who established the solid foundations of UN-Habitat.

Arcot Ramachandran passed away on 17 May 2018.

Daniel Biau