12 March 2019
SDSN Issues Guide to Help Cities Implement the SDGs
Photo by IISD | Lynn Wagner
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‘A Pathway to Sustainable American Cities: A Guide to Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals’ proposes 10 steps to support sustainable development planning in cities.

The guide reports that following New York City's presentation of its Voluntary Local Review (VLR) to the UN in 2018, other cities like Helsinki in Finland, have committed to submitting their VLR in 2019, and several US cities are exploring how they might conduct VLRs in the years to come.

1 March 2019: The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) has issued a guide to help cities in the US implement the SDGs. The guide outlines ten steps to support sustainable development planning, and provides case studies and examples from American cities that have begun to use the SDGs in their planning processes.

Titled, ‘A Pathway to Sustainable American Cities: A Guide to Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals,’ the document notes that over the last 15 years, US cities of all sizes have started developing long-term sustainability plans. More recently, it says, some cities have turned towards the SDGs to help them develop a comprehensive plan with clear baselines and an analytical framework to improve internal planning and implementation.

Helsinki will submit a Voluntary Local Review in 2019, and several US cities are exploring how they might do the same in coming years.

Based on lessons from recent planning exercises in American cities, and on the experience of the authors, the guide proposes the ten following steps to support sustainable development planning:

  • Setting up the leadership and management structure, including budget and timelines, for the planning process;
  • Identifying core values for the city;
  • Establishing work teams;
  • Assembling baseline data, including population trends and economic conditions;
  • Taking stock of what the city is already doing that aligns with the SDGs, identifying gaps and analyzing the most important to fill;
  • Identifying budget resources and potential funding sources;
  • Developing a draft framework for the plan, including targets, benchmarks, metrics and indicators;
  • Identifying stakeholders, outside advisors and community resources, establishing processes to work with them, and integrating their knowledge and ideas into the drafted plan;
  • Aligning budgets and accountability mechanisms, including metrics and indicators, and final reviews; and
  • Launching the plan while establishing feedback and accountability mechanisms.

Written by Nilda Mesa, Melika Edquist and Jessica Espey, the guide reports that New York City was the first city worldwide to report to the UN on its progress towards achieving the SDGs, which it did by submitting a ‘Voluntary Local Review’ (VLR). A VLR refers to the local application of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), which is the mechanism by which countries share their experiences implementing the SDGs at the national level, as called for in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The New York VLR was presented during the review of progress on SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) at the July 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The guide notes that following New York City’s initiative, other cities like Helsinki, Finland have committed to submitting their own VLR in 2019, and several US cities are exploring how they might conduct VLRs in coming years.

Among other cities in the US, the guide reports that Los Angeles and San José, California, as well as Orlando, Florida have considered the SDGs. In 2018, Orlando aligned the update of its Green Works Orlando Community Action Plan more cohesively with the SDGs. The Green Works Orlando Community Action Plan is the city’s strategy for working toward sustainability goals.

In Los Angeles, the authors note, the SDGs have been used as a coherent framework to understand how current plans fit together, to identify gaps, and to consider new interconnected and interdisciplinary approaches to the city’s challenges. Los Angeles is expected to consider the SDGs as a framework in the future in the context of its new sustainability plan and other emerging policies and governmental priorities.

The guide also reports that an increasing number of US-based local foundations and philanthropic partners have begun to convene with groups like the Council on Foundations to jointly take on SDGs, while continuing to focus on their specific areas of interest. As an example, the guide indicates that the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors convened a meeting of San Francisco Bay Area stakeholders, including many from private foundations, philanthropic associations, and venture capital firms, to discuss how their sector can best work together to have a wide-reaching impact in the region.

Also on SDG implementation at the local level, UN-Habitat has published a report on financing the localization of the SDGs, sharing the findings and recommendations from a meeting titled, ‘Venice City Solutions 2030 – Financing the SDGs,’ that took place from 16-17 November 2018, in Venice, Italy. [Publication: A Pathway to Sustainable American Cities: A Guide to Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals]

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