Cities and the Sustainable Development Goals

Anastasia Dellaccio, Director of Marketing and Communications, Sister Cities International. Original piece on Diplomatic Courier.


This past September, as global influencers throughout the international community gathered at the United Nations for the 2015 General Assembly, something bigger than networking and negotiating took place during this season’s “Super Bowl of Diplomacy.”

As representatives from 193 countries gathered, they put forward and officially adapted a new blueprint for the future, the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The world’s new to-do list of seventeen goals includes ending poverty and hunger, clean water and sanitation, as well as fighting climate change. Cities were also given their own goals, and will play massive roles over the next 15 years of their implementation.

Goal number eleven states, “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” and is an important reminder that our cities should become safer, protect heritage, and be ready to prevent or bounce back from any potential destruction they face. However, cities are more than just a goal, cities are a golden thread that weaves all of the other goals together. Today, 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, and in 2050 that number will rise to 70 percent. As a city’s population grows, so do the innovations that come out of them. Large populations within cities mean more potential for collaboration, which in turn leads to the development of more sustainable solutions that address the Goals. The Goals will be financed via capital markets all over the world that are contained in global cities. Finally, cities, the world leaders that reside in them, the massive institutions that function in them, and the money that flows in and out of them will be held accountable for these goals and their successes.

Mayors themselves are often a driving force behind city-wide innovation and how mayors collaborate with their peers abroad is integral to expanding and improving their cities. The importance of city to city exchange on a global scale is a key ingredient in how cities grow their economies, develop new technologies, and share best practices in disaster resistance, sustainability, resilience, innovation in business, trade, and development of solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

So what does this mean? Over the next 15 years, cities must get better at working together; this includes not only elected or municipal officials, but also private, nonprofit, and educational institutions, as well as volunteers and other civic leaders. Organizations like Sister Cities International can play a massive role in building bridges to close the global divide. Sister Cities’ activities are demand-driven by communities, and the framework has the flexibility to adjust to community needs, as well as promote cross-sector cooperation and information sharing. The long-term nature of all sister cities helps cultivate trust, flexibility, patience, and sustainability, as opposed to finite projects or programs where individuals are more inclined to see the relationship as temporary and expendable.

Partnerships must be built between cities to strengthen, share knowledge, best practices and create mutual awareness between cultures and nations abroad. These partnerships will help create peace through people and will lead to a more shared prosperity.

The new Global Goals have been crowd sourced, debated and adapted for the world by the world. They are universal. That universal connection means we cannot let accountability fall on the shoulders of only a few in elected power. It is up to citizens at large to develop solutions for their implementation and to work with others around the world to make the goals possible. Cities and the citizens within them need to connect and collectively work towards taking these goals and turning them from creative, colorful icons into realities.

As Ban Ki-moon proclaimed at the Goals’ adoption, “When we stand together, there is no limit to what we can achieve.” We must take his call to action and stand together not just as citizens, cities, and countries but also as a global community that strives towards common goals, the Global Goals.