The potential impact of a city-focused Sustainable Development Goal

September 2014 — When the UN General Assembly convenes in mid-September for the upcoming 69th session, its responsibilities will include the consideration of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets recently proposed by the UN Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs. Among the currently proposed goals is Goal 11: "Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable." The inclusion of a standalone goal focused on sustainable cities and human settlements will be a powerful impetus for the international community to acknowledge and act on the critical challenges and major opportunities that rapid urbanization will present during the next 15 years.

This month's discussion will explore the potential impact of an urban-focused SDG on policy-level solutions, examining institutional structures, capacities, laws, plans, and programs. Check out this month's articles to read about solutions coming from across the Global South — then join the conversation in the comments below.

Sustainability or transformation? City futures in Cape Town and the global South

Cape Town, 22 September 2014 — Cape Town, like other cities in South Africa and globally, has begun speaking a discourse around 'sustainability'. The renewable energy industry in South Africa is already one of the fastest-growing in the world, but increasingly a balance will need to be struck between returns for the private sector investment required and the needs of the broader society. If left unchecked, 'green' ventures may well turn into a new kind of hegemony, justifying further investment in the wealthiest areas at the expense of the poorest. See more.

Planeamiento urbano pensando en la sostenibilidad: Un objetivo ambicioso en Cali

Cali, 19 septiembre 2014 — El crecimiento de las ciudades en América Latina ha sido caotico. El Plan de Ordenación Territorial, actualmente en discusión en Cali, contempla aspectos con una ambiciosa agenda que incluye la creación de un sistema municipal de áreas protegidas, la apertura de nuevos espacios verdes, mejoras en la infraestructura de transporte y una densificación del centro de la ciudad. Leer más.

Pemulangan pendatang ilegal untuk menekan laju urbanisasi Jakarta

Jakarta, 18 September 2014 — Urbanisasi adalah proses tak terelakkan untuk Jakarta. Magnet ekonomi menarik banyak orang dari wilayah lain untuk mencari penghidupan yang lebih baik. Laju urbanisasi yang tidak terkontrol menyebabkan kota kehilangan keseimbangan. Pendataan terhadap pendatang baru dan sosialisasi informasi kependudukan menjadi kunci menahan laju pertambahan penduduk Jakarta. Baca lebih lanjut.

Ciudad de México quiere subir el salario mínimo

Mexico D.F., 17 septiembre 2014 — El D.F. propone aumentar el salario mínimo de las personas empleadas para que estos salgan de la situación de marginación y pobreza. Este cambio está relacionado con la meta 7ª de los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sustentable para las urbes sobre la erradicación de la pobreza. Leer más.

Inspiring and training the next generation of India's urban leaders

Bangalore, 16 September 2014 — Although India is on the cusp of being predominantly urban, many of the country’s top leaders and city managers have no formal training in urban issues and practice. In 2011, a new university launched in Bangalore to fill this knowledge gap. The Indian Institute of Human Settlements — the first of its kind in the country — plans to lead the way in giving Indian urbanists a world-class education as they prepare to thoughtfully and carefully plan for massive urban growth. See more.

The 'African City of the Future': Johannesburg's 2040 vision

Johannesburg, 15 September 2014 — Understanding the challenges of modern cites as resulting from complex and inter-related factors, the key innovation of Joburg's 2040 vision is to move away from a narrow sectoral approach toward a more thematic one, to which all targeted City interventions can aim. But high-level frameworks alone can never bring such a complex conceptual map into being. Enabling environments must be supported on a number of levels, as they filter knowledge both 'upwards' and 'downwards', build interdisciplinary capacity, and value creativity and spatial thinking. See more.

Surabaya sebagai Kota Pintar (Smart City)

Surabaya, 12 September 2014 — Surabaya menjadi pionir dalam implementasi Smart City di Indonesia telah mengaplikasikan system teknologi dan informasi yang terintegrasi ke dalam pemerintahan, transportasi dan lingkungan. Melalui konsep ini Surabaya diharapkan mampu meningkatkan kualitas pelayanan publik menjadi lebih cepat, transparan dan akuntabel. Baca lebih lanjut.

التخطيط الحضري والتنمية المستدامة في القاهرة

Cairo, 11 September 2014 — أخذت الحكومة المصرية على عاتقها الحد من التلوث وتوسعة المناطق السكنية وتحسين مستوى حياة الأجيال المصرية الجديدة بتحسين التخطيط الحضري ودعم أهداف التنمية المستدامة من خلال مناطق حضرية خارج العاصمة... أقرء المزيد عن تلك المبادرة... إقرء المزيد

SDG 11 could boost Malawi's recently elected City Councillors

Lilongwe, 10 September 2014 — A strong international urban agenda can trickle down to give Lilongwe's newly elected City Councillors a boost, along with much-needed strategic direction. The city's poor can benefit through a combination of strengthened local accountability and incentives to develop a pro-poor urban policy framework. See more.

From a planned city to spontaneous urbanization: Could Ho Chi Minh City go back to a sustainable development plan?

Ho Chi Minh City, 9 September 2014 — In 1862, Ho Chi Minh City was surprisingly well-constructed under the "Projet de Ville de 500.000 âmes à Saigon" (urban plan for a 500,000-inhabitant city of Saigon) by a French colonel named Paul Coffyn. A hundred fifty years later, the city has become a "fragmented city." Could it ever go back to its planned state? See more.

Lighting up the urban poor

Mumbai, 8 September 2014 — A simple light bulb can be a game-changer in low-income households. Studying and work can continue on past dark, providing the grounds for more income and potentially a different future. The energy issue is not one only of rural areas. Many of India's urban slums continue to exist in darkness or are forced to pay high prices for power. What is needed to catalyze energy access for all? Mumbai has been testing answers. See more.

Changing urban planning: an urban SDG for compact cities

Dar es Salaam, 5 September 2014 — With Dar es Salaam continuing to grow, focus turns to what an urban Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) would mean for urban planning in the city. Can the lived experience of Dar es Salaam be changed through measuring and recognising sustainability? See more.

Sustaining Lagos through institutional reforms

Lagos, 4 September 2014 — Good governance coupled with political will creates an environment where policies can create sustainable development. One way to achieve this is through institutional reforms. See how these factors work together in Lagos to improve the lives of residents, spur growth and employment, and cater to both human and environmental needs. See more.

Protección de los Cerros Orientales: garantizando la sostenibilidad en Bogotá

Bogotá, 3 septiembre 2014 — Los Cerros Orientales de Bogotá constituyen un tesoro ecológico de incalculable valor para Bogotá. Tras siglos de explotación y olvido, la creación de un marco de protección jurídica ha sido un proceso largo y complejo, que ha culminado con una reciente decisión judicial. La falta de seguridad y la reparación de los daños ecológicos siguen siendo retos pendientes. Leer más.

Self-organized communities and development practices

Delhi, 2 September 2014 — Can development practices centered on collaborative community become mainstream in Delhi? This article discusses three case studies on community-centered development work and makes a case for legitimacy at ground level through the enactment of 74th Amendment and Local Area Plans in Delhi. See more.

Sustentabilidade urbana na prática: o caso do novo Plano Diretor de São Paulo

São Paulo, 1 setembro 2014 — Com seu novo plano diretor, São Paulo hoje é um laboratório de ideias de aplicação de princípios de sustentabilidade urbana no planejamento urbano. Com o objetivo de reequilibrar a cidade, grande foco foi colocado na questão do acesso à terra urbana, suas funções e densidades ideais, os espaços públicos e sistemas modais leves. Leia mais.


Join the discussion on the impact of a city-focused SDG in the comments below.

You can also join our August discussion on safe cities and urban inclusion.

Join the discussion for this month's topic!


María Fernanda Carvallo's picture

Priyanka, thanks for sharing the three projects that are been implemented in informal settlements in Delhi, it is very interesting that through community participation the inhabitants can have access to basic services. I totally agree with you that people living in this areas are not consider in institutional planning from the government, one of the arguments is related to the escalation of informal settlements if government provides this services, however institutions may not ignore this effect and the basic needs and vulnerability of these inhabitants. I mean, the establishment of these settlements is the result of lacking urban plans for vulnerable people.

Shaima Abulhajj's picture

What a comprehensive and great piece of work as usual Gemma. I have a question on your stated outcome that high transportation costs from peripheral/compact cities will result in Segregated communities, I wonder, why the government, within the frame of establishing those compact/newly established cities did not think in a more effective means to solve the traffic jam issue and enable the inhabitants of those cities to commute, through for instance, a metro short line network.. was such topic suggested at any time? Does the government have a future initiative?
Also, I wonder, when you mentioned Urban Agriculture as a source of income, are there any achieved or implemented successful examples in Tanzania?

Best regards,

Nora Lindstrom's picture

Hi all,

I wonder if you're able to elaborate on what impact you think an urban SDG will have on policy-making in your cities? As I've outline in my piece, the MDGs played a role in the development of priorities for Malawi's two previous Growth and Development Strategies, and as such it can be expected that the SDGs will also influence the third Strategy. Thus, an urban SDG can be expected to add pressure Malawian government to include urbanisation as a priority area in the next Strategy (not least because the expected increased financing for urban issues if SDG 11 is kept in the final draft). Is the situation similar in your cities? For instance, Olatawura, you highlight various institutional changes and processes towards sustainability in Lagos implemented over the past decade - do you expect these to be buoyed or receive additional funding if SDG 11 is formally included in the post-2015 development agenda? Did the MDGs have a visible impact on development strategies in your cities?



Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi's picture

Hi Nora,
The MDGs definitely had an impact in Lagos, there are efforts addressing all eight focus areas, primary education and hunger have sort of been lumped together with a program that encourages children to attend school paying next to nothing and offering school lunches, poverty eradication is also being tackled through employment opportunities, ongoing malaria prevention programs and more accessible health care through local government clinics placed around the city there about 52 in Lagos. Green spaces and programs to enhance environmental sustainability are also in place. These program are not solely city funded but involve civil societies as well.

But I get your point, and it might be time to start giving a little more focus to cities as priorities, as a starts for wave of change, In Nigeria, many other states and cities are beginning to follow the lead of Lagos. The improvements in lagos is causing a ripple of change or shaming for change if you will of other cities and states...and what is a country if not the sum of its many parts? Focusing on cities might be a faster way to ensure national improvements and development.

As for the SDGs, the impact it might have and hoped for is more funding, from the MDGs the city is already leaning more towards sustainable urban practices and for a city like Lagos, this is imperative given its size, population and significance to the Nigerian economy. I do not foresee a lot of pressure but more facilitation for sustainable goals and practices that will also hopefully spill over to other Nigerian cities. The SDGs will be a welcomed enhancement, lending more legitimacy to the city's sustainable goal and will be important for ensuring inclusiveness of all classes in the journey.

Carlin Carr's picture

Nora, this is a great question. On a national level, there was a lot of focus on the MDGs, though there are mixed opinions on whether or not India achieved the targets. "Its vast population, its diversity, the variability of services and the differing baselines across regions complicate the achievement of the MDGs. There is evidence that while some States are on track, many others lag behind and will lower the country's overall achievement," said an article in the Hindu at the 10-year assessment. In Mumbai, there has definitely been a big focus and improvement on university primary education, as well as reduction in maternal mortality and primary health. I think the key with the MDGs is that there were only 8 of them and they were clear with their objectives and outcomes. An article yesterday in the NYTs about the SDGs by Abhijeet Banerjee says that the SDGs are trying to be all-encompassing and run the risk of being too broad for governments with limited resources to feel they can actually meet the goals. (The article is interesting, see here: I think this is an important point when thinking about adding an "urban" SDG. There are so many issues related to urban development, so it seems to me the challenge will be ensuring the targets are achievable.

Nora Lindstrom's picture

Thanks Carlin for the link. Very interesting, and also very true as I see it. Still, I'd be tempted to argue that an urban SDG is necessary given that 50% of the world's population lives in cities. On the other hand, shouldn't that mean that every goal should be directly related to cities in one way or another? Or maybe we need a set of SDGs for cities?

Carlin Carr's picture

Nora, I definitely agree with you that an urban SDG is absolutely necessary. I wasn't trying to dismiss an urban SDG, but I just wanted to make the point that urban issues are so all-encompassing and widespread that if it is just one of a list of SDG goals, then it will have to sort through what are the most important priorities. Or, like you proposed, perhaps the SDGs need to just divide along urban and rural lines, since there is so much to cover.

jorgebela's picture

Hi Eliana, my article on Cali also focuses on adjustments to the Master Plan (known as POT in Colombia). The process is still ongoing, and it also has been opened to participation. Just as you do, I am concerned about the long term prospects of the good intentions registered in the plans, as financial and political constraints do take their toll. Obviously, master plans are nevertheless crucial tools.

I would like to ask you if you can give us some more information on the social housing being proposed for Sao Paulo. Is it going to be built by the administration?

Thanks, Jorge

Hi Jorge, Thank you for your question!
In São Paulo the social housing aspects are related to ZEIS (Special Zones of Public Interest), areas defined in the masterplan to create social housing or regularize informal settlements and ocupations. These can be done by the public companies (from the state and the municipality) and by private real estate companies. To improve the system, the new masterplan brought a new tool, the Solidarity Quota (Cota de solidariedade) which defines that any new enterprise with more than 20.000m2 of área will have to invest in social housing, either providing it in the same condominium (in the case of housing developments), either buying plots for the public company to construct housing units, and finnaly by giving Money to the municipality, increasing the FUNDURB (Urbanization Fund).

jorgebela's picture

Hi Carlin, access to basic services is a critical aspect of the fight against poverty. Here in Bogotá the City last year adopted a free minimum supply of water for poor households. The City covers 100% of the cost of this water (50/l per person per day approx). Do you know who covers that subsidy in the case of the connection fees for the electric energy service in Mumbay?

Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi's picture

Hi Carlin,
Power supply definitely improves lives not just for working hours but for general productivity and cost of that productivity. It is interesting that the connection fees have been subsidised and just leveraging off Jorge's question do you know how the billing works and how affordable it is?

For instance in Lagos, there is flat rate that has to be paid outside of billing for electricity used, it was initially a small fee, but with privatisation and reforms in the National energy sector the fee although still small, has gradually increased. One can imagine the impact on poorer households who live on a tight budget. I ask about the billing system because its one thing to be connected to the grid, and its another thing to be able to afford it. Was wondering if you knew the affordability aspect of being on the grid and how this is worked around. Alo what happens when there is isn't constant supply in that first 6 months?

Carlin Carr's picture

Jorge and Wura, good question about where the subsidy comes from. In the pilot phase of the project for the targeted households, the one-off subsidy is funded by GPOBA, which is a partnership of donors established in 2003 by DFID (the UK's Dept of Int Dev). Actually, the interesting part of this project is that it is considered an "Output Based Approach" (OBA), so 90% of the subsidy will only be delivered to the provider once an independent agent verifies a working connection and six months of supply and billing. Since this approach basically has a built in measurement to gauge effective delivery, the idea is seen as a way to improve the effectiveness of development aid in the many forms OBAs are currently being used. What do you think of this idea?

It should not be forgotten that the Urban SDG Goal as reported by the OWG recognizes a central role for heritage in making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It does this specifically through inclusion of Target 11.4 which calls for strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage. Among the key roles heritage plays in the context of sustainable urbanization is promoting social cohesion, well-being, creativity and economic appeal, and is a factor in promoting understanding between communities.

The question of how can heritage, can contribute to a more balanced and sustainable urbanization has been a key concern of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), including at a key summit held in Paris in 2011 which resulted in a declaration entitled "Heritage as a Driver of Development." This Declaration forms part of a series of initiatives and actions that have been undertaken by ICOMOS over many years in order to promote a development process that incorporates tangible and intangible cultural heritage as a vital aspect of sustainability, and gives a human face to development. Of particular note is the ICOMOS conference held at Moscow and Suzdal in Russia (1978), on the theme of ‘The Protection of Historical Cities and Historical Quarters in the Framework of Urban Development’. The work and ICOMOS reports of Nara (1997), Xi'an (2005) and Quebec (2008) helped to develop the heritage concepts of ‘authenticity’, ‘context’ and ‘spirit of place’. An important step has been the work of ICOMOS in developing Charters that have become international benchmarks, especially for UNESCO and its Member States. Of particular note are the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Charter developed in 1977 and updated in 1999, the ICOMOS Charter on Cultural Routes adopted by ICOMOS in 2008 and the ICOMOS Charter for the Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites, which was also adopted in 2008.

Concerns revolving around heritage and development are also echoed in the theme that UNESCO chosen to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention in Kyoto in 2012, ‘World Heritage and Sustainable Development: the Role of Local Communities’.

This topic is important for a number of reasons. The effects of globalisation on societies are manifested in the attrition of their values, identities and cultural diversity, and of their tangible and intangible heritage, in the broadest sense. Therefore, the relationship between development and heritage must be examined. As various aspects of development threaten to degrade and destroy heritage and its inherent values, it is necessary to take up the challenge of conserving this fragile, crucial and non-renewable resource for the benefit of current and future generations. It is now widely agreed that heritage - with its value for identity, and as a repository of historical, cultural and social memory, preserved through its authenticity, integrity and ‘sense of place’ - forms a crucial aspect of the development process in general and urbanization in particular.

With this in mind, our view is that heritage plays an indispensable role in sustainable urbanization, with the following elements being among those that are critical:

Regulating and Redistributing Urban Development

- To preserve historic districts and encourage their restoration and regeneration;

- To establish and direct work on regeneration and increased urban densification, promoting a harmonious, balanced and coherent approach to street and plot layout, streetscapes, massing and height of urban developments, and reclaiming urban wastelands and peripheral urban zones, in order to recreate multifunctional, landscaped urban neighbourhoods; restoring the concept of urban boundaries.

- To promote balanced planning and development in order to ensure the most appropriate allocation of activity zones, including educational, cultural, tourism and leisure facilities.

Revitalising Towns and Local Economies

- To encourage the selective retention and reuse of built heritage in towns and rural villages in order to foster socio-economic regeneration; increase the density of urban cores to contain the anarchic spread of new buildings;

- To support the maintenance of traditional agricultural and craft activities to preserve skills and expertise and provide employment for local communities;

- To maintain and bring back into use local, sustainable, traditional energy production techniques, and develop new sources of energy production, with a view to economic and energy security.

Preserving Space

- To preserve open spaces, which are non-renewable; to maintain rural landscapes and the organisation and scale of their agriculture and forests; to conserve indigenous plant and aquatic heritage; to protect geological and archaeological heritage, groundwater and ecosystems;

- To maintain regional and local communication networks (railway heritage, roads, navigable waterways) to transport people and goods, and to ensure the provision of local services; to promote alternative modes of transport;

- Preserve rural heritage, ensuring its appropriate reuse while maintaining integrity of spatial distribution and functional elements; strictly limit urban sprawl and place conditions on the right to build, stipulating that development should respect the historic landscape and traditional settlement patterns.

jorgebela's picture

Hi Andrew,

Indeed you raise an important issue. Here in Bogotá the historic center is beautiful and quite large, but has been neglected for decades. It is dirty, unsafe during the night, and many buildings are poorly kept. Many bogotanos avoid it altogether, and local business struggle to attract customers outside business hours. The economic and financial centers moved away from the area as it deteriorated, particularly after the 1950s when street disturbances severely damaged many buildings and obliterated much of the transportation infrastructure of the time. The center has not recovered ever since.

The current city administration is working on a plan that seeks to revitalize the center, but not onlythe historic core, but a larger area, what used to be the financial center and surrounding areas. For this project many of the ideas that you bring about are being considered. Still, it is a very complex process, and also has risks. For example, as the historic centers improve, prices skyrocket and many of the local inhabitants and traditional business are forced out. Also, planning has to be careful in order to avoid worsening some problems. For example, the central government is in the process of relocating many of its administrative offices to consolidated building in the enlarged center. This will, without question, bring a lot of economic activity to the area. However, it might worsen the security problems in weekends and at night, when all the office workers leave the ministries.
I am sure that in URB.IM we will have a chance to pick up the topic. I already discussed in in the context of regional cooperation (many historic cities in the region have faced the same issue Bogota is facing now, and were able to make significant improvements, in particular Quito, Lima and Mexico DF).

Thank you for your comment and for following URB.IM!!!

widya anggraini's picture

Nora, it is great question and indeed very tricky to answer it, because when we almost at the end of MDGs but very little seems to achieve (not to mention failure) despite so much money being spent already especially here in Indonesia. some failures for example in reducing maternal mortality, turns out the number is increasing; for child mortality the number has been stagnant for the last three year, similar to HIV cases that keep increasing. Meanwhile in term of women empowerment, indonesia has hard time in pushing women into politics to fulfill 30% of women quota in parliament. Indonesia also fails in delivering its target in poverty alleviation as level poverty is still at 11,6% and our target is 8%.

MDGs as global agreement will end in 2015 however post 2015 or SDG should continue and include urban issues based on argument that many more people will live in cities in coming future. However there is still on going discussion regarding issues should be included and countries and CSO all over the world are pushing their agenda at the moment.

But, may i know how each of your country try to involve urban issues within Urban SDG agenda? because government of Indonesia and our CSOs are very active in promoting our agenda. for example at the moment there is an Open Government Partnership High-Level Event at New York and my organization and several other CSOs are also attended the meeting.

Nora Lindstrom's picture

Hi there!

Thanks for comment - I think you raise a very pertinent question on how we can learn from the MDG experience to make 'better' SDGs as well as how to actually reach them..

On the question of involvement in the SDG process, I am not aware of any country-led activities on the urban SDG in Malawi. There is a strong rural bias in development here, and so any engagement in the SDG process is likely to be on other themes (but I don't know of any). At a recent meeting for urban stakeholders we discussed the possible urban SDG, and the general feeling was that action would be taken mainly once SDG 11 had (hopefully) been included, and we could use that to advocate for more focus on urbanisation and urban development in Malawi.

Hilaryzainab's picture

I found this article to be very interesting and inspiring. Though broad based development goals such as the MDGs have become widely recognized in the global community less attention to date has been paid to Urban Sustainable Development Goals. As you highlight in your article, our world is rapidly urbanizing and India is not exception. It is important to push innovation as you highlight but if the complex system thinking is not built among the practitioner base then negative impacts of more infrastructure led development are glossed over. Especially given the trajectory of India's population growth over the next few decades and the existing human development challenges faced in the nation, a approach that provides policy makers and leaders with an appreciation of the prerequisite for basic human capabilities is indeed encouraging.

Hilaryzainab's picture

Thanks for this article on immigration & deportation. It is a new perspective on an age-old issue of development and work. In particular the Citizenship Counseling program caught my attention. Often with rural-urban migration individuals are seeking a higher standard quality of life or reconnection with family members, among a host of other push factors. This approach to engaging existing residence in providing new arrivals is innovative. I wonder what impact the deportation policy in Jakarta has on migration to other cities. Have these policies been successful in their goal of promoting economic development in other cities across Indonesia? In addition, I wonder what potential negative impacts these policies have on individual livelihoods. I assume that these fines might be difficult for some individuals to meet. If fined and unable to pay are workers/immigrants excluded from returning to Jakarta? I look forward to reading more on this issue, and am very intrigued by their approach.

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