The SDGs go local! Why cities need to engage in integrated urban development

By Katrin Eisenbeiß

For the Sustainable Development Goals to work, cities as key development actors need to apply integrated approaches. Different actors and levels of government must be provided with opportunities to collaborate in order to ensure inclusive, secure, resilient and sustainable urban development. Furthermore, coordinated territorial planning and cross-sectoral cooperation are significant for an effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The world is getting more urbanized every day. With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) it is crucial that cities are strengthened in their role as key development actors. The urban goal, SDG11, underlines the need to “Make Cities and Human Settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. Given the strong interlinkages between the 17 SDGs and their 169 targets, it is clear that an integrated approach is needed to put the urban goal into practice and to effectively implement the SDGs at local level. This holds particularly true in the face of core urban challenges: lack of basic urban services, socio-economic disparities and environmental degradation. These challenges do not follow spatial or administrative boundaries, nor can they be addressed by single sectors or actors alone. For instance, since cities account for 80% of global GHG emissions, implementing SDG13 “to combat climate change and its impacts” at local level does not only and inevitably require assessing its interlinkages with the urban goal. It also calls for acknowledging how SDG13 relates to the goals on clean energy (SDG7), resilient infrastructure and innovation (SDG9), and sustainable consumption and production patterns (SDG12) and for putting these interlinkages into practice.

However, an integrated approach is not an end in itself. It rather seeks to take into account the complexity of conflicting goals and interlinked challenges. By designing measures that address several interlinked SDGs and involve the respective actors, they help to

  • reduce trade-offs between development goals,
  • increase effectiveness of measures and deployed resources, and
  • strengthen institutional capacities to act on complex and dynamic challenges.

The New Urban Agenda (NUA), which will be adopted at the Habitat III conference in Quito in October 2016, is a major milestone towards the implementation of the SDGs at the local level. The agreed draft demands that integrated territorial and cross-sectoral strategies and their respective instruments be linked to coordination processes between different levels of government and further relevant stakeholders.

Integrated solutions for complex challenges

Even though the concept of integrated urban development is not new, “thinking in silos” is still common in many municipal administrations. In many cases, individual sector strategies that do not take into account co-dependencies or interdependencies with other sectors do not only lead to conflicts of interests, but also fall short of addressing cross-sectoral challenges. In order to improve urban living conditions in a way that balances social, ecological and economic development, the following four dimensions are crucial for effective planning and implementation processes:

  • cross-sectoral solutions and coordination,
  • inclusion of relevant actors,
  • coordination between different levels of government, and
  • balanced territorial development.

Consequently, relevant measures require a superordinate, holistic strategy. Such a strategy would need the approval of the relevant sectors, actors, governance levels and territories and, in an ideal case, would be jointly developed by these different actors. Making sure that everyone is on board is important because integrated urban development goes beyond merely coordinating sector policies and interest groups. It presumes a common understanding of the mid- and long-term development goals, which should be jointly developed within a negotiation process. However, such processes beyond administrative boundaries require political and institutional changes. At the same time, local governments need to be provided with incentives that promote integrated approaches and strengthen their capacities so that they can deal with interdisciplinary tasks.

Building capacities and facilitating new partnerships

Developing and strengthening capacity on all levels and among all urban stakeholders is a prerequisite for integrated urban development. To be effective, it must combine individual, institutional and policy dimensions. Hence, individual capacity development has to accompany and reinforce policy reforms that are directed at integrated urban development, inclusive and participatory approaches to urban development as well as appropriate legislative frameworks and enforcement mechanisms. Suitable capacity building measures may include trainings that strengthen interdisciplinary skills in order to enable people to transfer knowledge on available instruments and good practices. New training concepts have to be developed to overcome professional segregation by disciplines and for bringing together different actors. Furthermore, cooperation between local governments, civil society, the academia and the private sector needs to be strengthened. Only then can effective capacity development programs be delivered that focus on peer-to-peer learning, subject-matter related partnerships as well as the communication and dissemination of relevant results and lessons learnt.

Especially the exchange between cities, for example through inter-municipal cooperation, has proven to be a powerful tool in building capacities and spreading knowledge and experiences. Hence, international development cooperation should not only provide capacity building for cities and local governments, but also facilitate new alliances between actors at different levels and stakeholder groups for implementing integrated solutions.

It’s already happening: How cities put integrated urban development into practice

Many cities already demonstrate successful approaches of integrated urban development. For instance, Porto Alegre (Brasil) has set up councils with representatives from various levels of government as well as members of civil society. These councils allow the formulation of integrated policy goals that increase policy coherence between different governance levels and foster multi-level coordination.

In other cities such as Hamburg (Germany), different administrative bodies have jointly developed inter-sectoral strategies and programs. Such cross-sectoral cooperation can take many forms: merging disciplines and departments under one head department (e.g. for transport planning, spatial planning or environmental protection), or having a management structure in place where units within a department are responsible for monitoring cross-cutting issues with other departments. Last but not least, it can mean to introduce new financial tools, such as participatory budgets. When participatory budgets are in place residents can decide how to spend part of a public budget and add their individual knowledge and interests. The most famous example for realising this approach and engaging multiple stakeholders is again the city of Porto Alegre.

Another fiscal solution for greater coherence across spatial boundaries is merging budgets of neighbouring administrations for a specific development goal. Such an instrument of inter-municipal cooperation can enable the financing and development of measures that are implemented in one municipality but also benefit its surrounding areas. With its Water Protection Fund (‘Fondo para la Proteccion del Agua’ – FONAG), the Quito Metropolitan Region (Ecuador) provides a good example for managing water resources at a city regional level. In addition to contributions from the private sector, a share of 2% of all drinking water sales by Quito’s water company are contributed to the assets of FONAG. The funds are used to support programmes in Quito’s surrounding communities, e.g. in the fields of control and monitoring of protected areas and watersheds, environmental education, and sustainable agricultural production – all with the objective of keeping Quito’s water supply safe and clean creating positive impacts on local livelihoods.

What are the benefits of integrated urban development?

All of those instruments and organizational arrangements have the following benefits in common:

  • They allow cities to formulate cross-sectoral goals and to develop monitoring systems for cross-cutting policy fields, such as how to efficiently use natural resources, or reduce socio-economic disparities;
  • They enable cities to develop strategies and projects that involve the knowledge and perspectives of different disciplines and actors from civil and private sector;
  • Finally, they help cities with limited budgets and capacities to implement the SDGs more effectively by joining capacities and funds, and by reducing trade-offs between sectors and neighbouring municipalities.

[1] At the European level, the high relevance of an integrated approach to develop cities and their surrounding areas in a sustainable way was already highlighted in the “Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities” in 2007.

Katrin Eisenbeiß

Katrin Eisenbeiß is a Policy Advisor at GIZ and part of the Sector Project "Sustainable Development of Metropolitan Regions". Her current focus of work is on integrated urban development, resource management and city region food systems. Before joining GIZ, she worked with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) in Stuttgart for the research project "Morgenstadt – City Insights" at the interface of mobility and governance. She obtained her Master’s Degree in Regional and Urban Research with a focus on international development cooperation and transport planning at the University of Bayreuth, Germany.
Katrin Eisenbeiß

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