Sustainable Development Goals and Urban Governance

What do urban governance and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) have in common? How does it impact citizen engagement and city building?

Those were some of the questions I had in mind when I was invited to give a guest lecture in the Governance Leadership & Ethics (GLE) course at Huron University. GLE goal is to “contribute to the well-being of their local and global communities” and in order to do that they need to understand “new decision-making models” and “the know-how for leadership that is inclusive, accountable and effective”.

You can watch my presentation here and download the slidedeck:

The core principle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is integration. In terms of the triple bottom line (social, economic and environmental targets) and cross-sector collaboration. 

The SDGs offer a platform for new models of city governance, to enable coordination, partnerships, and new ways of working among multiple community stakeholders, including local businesses, civil society, and universities. This requires a shift in mindset and a collaborative spirit, and can prove useful in overcoming the inherent fragmentation among different sectors within the city.

Brookings Institution

This shift is already under way. Not long ago we had in our city:

  • An economic roadmap plan and a poverty reduction plan (reports available here). Both created around the same by two parallel networks without much communication. Fast forward a few years and we see the emergence of the Inclusive Economy London bridging that gap
  • We declared a climate emergency and even though we still have a $100million budget to subsidize the #1 source of GHG emissions, we also created a screening tool to evaluate infrastructure projects more holistically.
  • We mobilized hundreds of local champions in the LCRN. Granted that the solutions address the here and the now not the systemic issues. That is ok, that was the first round. Now we are turning our attention to long-term solutions.

What can we learn about the nature of cities from the nature of man? If the nature of man is self-organizing, evolutionary, developmental, complex, adaptive and co-constructed with his environment, then how does the city reflect this nature …

Integral City

Our real challenge is not technical, we mastered technology, we are capable of doing wonderful things. It is also not a matter of resources, we still have abundance and life (although we are destroying it at a fast pace). Our real challenge is human behaviour. It is our relationship with others, with our city and even with ourselves. We need to nurture all those relationships with our heads, hearts and hands.

3 thoughts on “Sustainable Development Goals and Urban Governance

  1. From “Closer to the Heart” by Rush:
    “And the men who hold high places
    Must be the ones who start
    To mold a new reality
    Closer to the heart
    Closer to the heart”

    The ‘men (and women!) who hold high places’ are doing their best, for the most part, but it would be naïve to think that they alone will pull us through.

    We must all seek the high place within ourselves, and call out with all our might for a new reality, a reality that seeks to heal, includes everyone, and is gentle to our planet.


  2. A belated thanks for sharing this Luis – liked your slides very much – very well referenced. I look forward to you bringing these ideas into Integral City Beyond Resilient class. fyi I wasn’t great fan of SDG’s when they came out – because too linear – but I like how you have explored them systemically in different ways. What I am curious about is how they contribute to Regenerativity – which I think we should focus “Beyond Sustainability”.


    1. Thanks for your comment Marilyn. I agree with you about linearity. And there is much room for improvement. Some relevant issues are not sufficiently addressed. I mention some of those gaps in my presentation.

      I find the framework flexible enough to adapt to a more systemic approach while at the same time being able to talk about it in a linear fashion. As I learn more about the integral city model, I realize that being able to speak to different levels of development could be a strength of the model.


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