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MAS Leadership on Why the World Needs an Urban Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)


Please join MAS and our colleagues working around the world to make cities more livable and resilient, by signing this petition to support the adoption of an Urban Sustainable Development Goal.

Background: The Local is Global

Recognizing the value of knowledge exchange to address the challenges to creating livable and resilient cities, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) has spent the past few years developing partnerships with other civil society organizations and urban practitioners working in cities around the world. In 2012, under the leadership of MAS Board Chair Dr. Eugenie Birch, we began a unique global partnership with UN Habitat to support the World Urban Campaign, of which Dr. Birch is the co-chair. Since that time we have participated in a number of international events addressing urban challenges with which MAS has familiarity and expertise, particularly focused on approaches to fostering urban resilience and livability.

As in global cities around the world, the MAS constituency includes a diverse group of global ‘city-builders’ – urban planners, architects, designers, urban development professionals, municipal leaders and staffers,urban ecologists, artists, public health advocates, entrepreneurs and civil society leaders and urban practitioners working to make their cities and neighborhoods both more livable and resilient. Our constituency continues to grow through our varied work:

  • on the fostering local economies such as in the garment district;
  • our community resilience-building work post-Sandy;
  • our advocacy for strengthening the public realms in east and west midtown;
  • our ongoing community planning work in Brownsville, Brooklyn and through our Livable Neighborhoods program delivered across the City; our focus on urban entrepreneurship and ways to support a diverse city economy and employment base;
  • our focus on the new ‘civic commons’ and assets that have anchored it;
  • and our on-going community engagement programs to build the urban literacy of New Yorkers.

How does our work here in New York connect with the urban resilience and livability challenges in cities elsewhere? How common are our challenges, and how shareable are the solutions tried here and by others somewhere else? At the 2013 MAS Summit for New York City, MAS President Vin Cipolla announced our creation of a digital knowledge-sharing platform for urban practitioners, the MAS Global Network, with initial digital and convening support from the McConnell (Montréal) and Rockefeller (New York City) Foundations.

GCT and Dance 2

Photo credit: UN-Habitat/Alessandro Scotti

Cities in the World

Our outreach to build the global network has reinforced for us the importance of civil society leadership in city-building, in New York City as in cities across North America and internationally, to advocate for public policies at every level that support sustainable urban development. As every New Yorker knows, cities play a critical role in the future success of our societies, economies, and the environment worldwide. Currently over half the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2030 more than 60% of the population will be living in cities; by 2050, 70%. Their economic influence is undeniable, as cities generate the vast majority of the world’s wealth. But as the world’s cities have continued to grow they have also become more vulnerable, to increasing levels of poverty, and to various forms of ‘natural’ disaster, due to severe weather events and other kinds of unpredictable challenge. But cities also have the capacity to innovate solutions, and find the most effective approaches to transportation and resource use, more efficient food production and waste management, and new educational and economic opportunities. The future of cities around the world is important to every region, sector, and culture. We need a robust, comprehensive urban strategy to mobilize leadership, develop a common understanding of key challenges, and support effective policy and action to ensure the sustainable, resilient and equitable growth in our cities. At the Millenium Summit in 2000, the United Nations adopted eight international development goals to achieve by 2015. The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) provided universal guidelines and mobilized member nations to strive to alleviate the world’s environmental, social and cultural problems:

  1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. To achieve universal primary education
  3. To promote gender equality and empowering women
  4. To reduce child mortality rates
  5. To improve maternal health
  6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. To ensure environmental sustainability
  8. To develop a global partnership for development

While setting out ambitious global goals to achieve, the MDGs failed to specifically address urban challenges, and ignored the importance of place and context: as the world continues to urbanize, global targets and objectives must be seen through an urban lens.

Girls and Busy Market

Photo credit: UN-Habitat/Alessandro Scotti

Need for Global Urban Policy Leadership

As 2015 draws near, discussion over future international development strategies has begun. At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20 held in 2012, the 192 UN member states agreed to begin a process of designing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be integrated into the UN’s post-2015 Development Agenda. A 30-member Open Working Group (OWG) was created in January 2013, and will present their proposal for consideration at the 68th session of the General Assembly, in September 2014. Current proposals for the post-2015 Development Agenda continue to relegate urban issues to ‘considerations’ under broader themes like ‘health’ and ‘energy’. Out of concern that this does not make urban development the priority it must be, many organizations are urging the United Nations to adopt a Sustainable Development Goal that specifically focuses on cities and human settlements. A campaign for an Urban SDG was launched in September 2013 by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) – an international network of academic institutions headed by Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs. Since then, many international organisations and municipal governments have joined the cause, including MAS, by launching this on-line petition: “Achieve Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements” Please join MAS and our colleagues working around the world to make cities more livable and resilient, by signing this petition to support the adoption of an Urban Sustainable Development Goal. For more information on this campaign for an urban SDG, please visit: