ISC convenes workshop on the role of cities in the SDGs in New York

Held to coincide with the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the event brought together around 40 experts from academia, a variety of research organizations, local and national governments, and other urban actors.

The workshop was designed to enable a community of stakeholders — many of which have no history of collaboration — to network and exchange about different approaches to the urban future. One aim was to also discuss what patterns emerge from the collective intelligence gathered in the room and how to build on the combined expertise to develop collaboration, ultimately leading to global leadership on the urban issue.

The workshop opened with a series of ‘provocations’ from different participants designed to identify tensions and challenges that emerge in cities from different policy positions in national and global commitments. Representatives from Slum Dwellers International raised the question of how slum dwellers fit into the SDGs — how can they be assured of education, safety and a healthy environment to live in? Asking the question “who do we work with to get our knowledge translated into action?”

The second session was dedicated to National Urban Policy frameworks, and how they can be effective in implementing the SDGs. Participants also flagged how some megaprojects drift towards normalisation of certain issues, and risk destabilizing bottom-up participation, or how urban centers that straddle country borders risk getting torn apart when different national urban policies are not aligned. Megatrends like climate change constitute risks and opportunities not just for low- and middle income countries but also raise issues for advanced economies.

In a further session, case studies from different cities around the world, provided a reality check, showcasing different approaches to implement the SDGs at the local level. Participants emphasized that these examples showed the need for more exchange between cities to enable learning and exchange.

Summarizing the event, Sue Parnell stressed the importance of partnerships, saying that the urban revolution will require more than one mind — collaboration between different cities, between different stakeholders and between cities and stakeholders is needed to enable better learning and planning. She also emphasized that the workshop had made the complexity of the urban issue very clear, as there is no single process, no single outcome, no single city. However, the workshop had also made clear that a conversation around the object of cities was possible even without a clear definition of cities.

Finally, she emphasized the need for this community to learn how to advocate for this type of knowledge in policy spheres, which in turn requires a set of clear priorities — a difficult task given the complexity of cities, but imperative to raise the issue of the urban future to the national level, where it is most needed.

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