Your government is about to sign a commitment that from now until 2030 they will work to"Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable". This is the culmination of a campaign that has been waged for almost a decade to persuade the international development community that urbanisation is central to sustainable development. Place is now intruded into what was previously a spatially-blind mindset. However, the SDGs should be seen as an integrated package for action, not a series of stand-alone abstract aspirations.
All 17 goals have targets. For the "Urban goal" these are:
- By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
- By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
- By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
- Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage
- By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations
- By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
- By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
- Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
- By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels
- Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials
This applies to you
While the forerunner to the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals, were seen by many Western governments as mainly applying to poorer countries, the above listing is clearly relevant to the affluent nations as well. Affordable housing is a major issue in the UK, where "generation rent" cannot afford to buy and we are seeing a form of "social cleansing" as less well-off people are squeezed out of London through a mix of market pressure and housing policy. Sustainable transport that meets the needs of women, children, the disabled and the elderly is as much a necessity in Norfolk as in Nairobi, in California as in Kolkota. Air quality and waste management may be crisis issues in Beijing, but there is plenty of room for improvement across Western Europe or the North-eastern seabord of the USA. Similarly, while cultural and natural heritage is under most pressure from rapid urban growth, conservation and the protection of heritage is an on-going challenge in many small towns where the resources to maintain historic buildings are being taken away in the name of austerity. Nor should we be complacent about the future of our parks and public open spaces, as municipal budgets are squeezed and squeezed again.
Then there is the direct call to enhance "capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries." The most rapidly urbanising countries are pitifully short of qualified planners; but I regularly hear concerns, not least from developers, that the capacity for planning in local government across the UK is being seriously eroded. And as the target makes clear, it is about quality as well as quantity. It is important that planners themselves realise that integrated human settlements planning means more than the form of statutory planning, bound by a narrow land use perspective, that we have in the UK, for example.
Similarly, there is the call to strengthen national and regional development planning. There are signs that governments are increasingly grasping the importance of planning and managing major urban growth - see, for example, my recent news items on Sri Lanka and Ghana but also the problem that many others still don't "get it".
In the end, each city, region and nation is unique, and the SDGs are not proposing a "one size fits all" approach to implementation. However, there is now a major need to share experiences and develop thinking about inclusive, environmentally informed and innovation-led approaches to planning at national and regional scale, not least in England! It may be planning, but not as we have known it...
Integrate, integrate, integrate
It really is important to look for, and work for, integration between the 17 SDGs. Goal 11 is welcome, but will not be delivered unless planners and related professions, as well as governments at different scales, understand the connections that need to be made. Remember that Goal 1 is "End poverty in all its forms, everywhere". It is not an Oxfam appeal to aid the poorest in refugee camps, urgent as those needs are. It is saying that by 2030 we should end poverty in the richest countries too, where it takes the form of low and irregular incomes, affects millions of children, and is strongly spatially concentrated. If planning is indeed "integrated" then poverty is a planning issue too.
I urge you to look through all 17 goals for yourself and as a planner, designer and citizen to consider which ones you can contribute your skills to delivering through your practice or research. Climate action, marine resource conservation, infrastrucuture, gender equality - the topics are very familiar to our profession. 2015-2030 is a critical horizon, a chance to make a difference, a period when planning must be reinvented if it is to be a means of realising the global goals, and not an obstacle to that end.