On the record: What supporters of an "urban SDG" are saying

By Neal Peirce, Citiscope

Citiscope’s feature story chronicles the fight to include cities in the next set of United Nations development goals, intended to guide development work through the year 2030. These so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a follow-on to the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were widely credited with helping to produce global drops in poverty, HIV infection and child mortality, among other things.

Below are a few prominent voices who have been making the case for an "urban SDG." (See our explainer for more background on the SDGs; see this story for more on the campaign for an explicitly urban goal; and see the goals themselves here.)

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals (New York City)

The urban development goal, promoting inclusive, productive and resilient cities, will greatly empower tens of thousands of cities worldwide to take up the cause of sustainable development for their own citizens, their countries, and the world... Cities will be on the front line of the battle for sustainable development. Not only do they face direct threats; they also have the best opportunities to identify and deliver solutions. (Source: Commentary in Project Syndicate, November 25, 2013)

Rafael Tuts, Chief of Urban Environmental Planning, UN-Habitat (Nairobi)

If endorsed by the General Assembly, the urban goal would concretize — for the first time in the global policy arena — a holistic approach towards cities and human settlements towards "The Future We Want." Moving far beyond urban poverty, slums and sanitation, it would address key determinants of sustainable urban development such as mobility, resilience, public space and rural-urban linkages — in an integrated framework. It would also set a strong foundation for the upcoming Habitat III Conference and its outcome document, the New Urban Agenda. (Source: Email to Neal Peirce)

Mary Rowe, Municipal Arts Society (New York City)

Cities contain the solutions to their own challenges, and the role of provincial/national governments is to enable that ingenuity, not proscribe uniform approaches. An urban SDG has the potential to challenge national governments to delegate both responsibilities and resources to cities to accomplish their goals. (Commentary in Nature of Cities, May 12, 2014.)

David Satterthwaite, Senior Fellow, Human Settlements Group, International Institute for Environment and Development (London)

We need a goal for cities because:

  • Cities (large concentrations of people and businesses) need their own targets and indicators;
  • Poverty in many cities is growing rapidly;
  • The achievement of goals and targets for poverty reduction in cities needs local leadership and buy-in;
  • Local success depends on competent, accountable municipal, city and metropolitan governments and urban civil society (including organized urban poor/shack dweller networks) working together, and
  • How cities develop in the next two decades has a huge influence on whether or not the world avoids dangerous climate change.

Most international funding agencies have yet to take these points on board. (Source: Email to Neal Peirce)

Richard Florida, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and Professor of Business and Creativity at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Millions upon millions live in favelas and shantytowns around the world. By 2050, their populations could swell to two billion... (But) slums can be transformed if we arm their residents with the right tools, listen to their insights, and build from and support them. A new UN goal for cities can help identify and establish best-practices informed by the process of what actually occurs in slums to guide poverty reduction and economic development. (Commentary in Citylab, April 17, 2014)

Aromar Revi, Director, Indian Institute for Human Settlements (Bangalore)

We’ve been trying to do cities right for 5,000 years. We never got it entirely right. Some cities have answers to many problems; there’s a tremendous amount of learning that must be done on a planet approaching 9 billion people.

The rise and fall of civilizations is also the story of the rise and fall of cities. If we mess it up this time, we'll crash the planet. (Source: Interview with Neal Peirce)

Citiscope is a nonprofit news outlet that covers innovations in cities around the world. More at Citiscope. org.

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