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A Planning Perspective on the New Urban Agenda

15 May 2017 Author: Ric Stephens

Sustainable Development Goals Infographic

Urban planning plays a vital role in shaping the future of global sustainability through implementation of the New Urban Agenda(NUA), and a new “planning-annotated” version of the Agenda has been launched to make clear where planning can contribute.

The NUA is a new global standard for planning, managing and rethinking life in cities to achieve sustainable urban development, adopted by the United Nations last October in Quito, Ecuador, with support from numerous international organizations including the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP).

It outlines key actions to realize 17 global sustainable development goals defined by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including sustainable cities and communities, decent work and economic growth, and climate action.

The New Urban Agenda has a strong spatial element

Unlike previous efforts such as the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals and NUA have a vision that includes all countries, not just developing and emerging countries. Another unique feature of the NUA is its genesis in specific topics outlined by 22 Issue Papers, many of which are focused on planning, and all of them include a spatial element.

The NUA is an international call for action to public, private, and non-governmental organization sectors to value planning. Planning is woven throughout the document and has taken on a new prominence, as illustrated by this description:

"We commit to promote the development of urban spatial frameworks, including urban planning and design instruments that support sustainable management and use of natural resources and land, appropriate compactness and density, polycentrism, and mixed uses, through infill or planned urban extension strategies as applicable, to trigger economies of scale and agglomeration, strengthen food system planning, enhance resource efficiency, urban resilience, and environmental sustainability."

The UN's New Urban Agenda is an international call for action to public, private, and non-governmental organization sectors to value planning.

An entire section of the NUA is devoted to “Planning and Managing Urban Spatial Development” with the founding principle:

"We will implement integrated planning that aims to balance short-term needs with long-term desired outcomes of a competitive economy, high quality of life, and sustainable environment. We will also strive to build in flexibility in our plans in order to adjust to changing social and economic conditions over time. We will implement and systematically evaluate these plans, while making efforts to leverage innovations in technology and to produce a better living environment."

UN-Habitat has developed International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning (IGUTP) which coincide with the New Urban Agenda. These guidelines were developed in coordination with numerous international planning organizations including ISOCARP.  An umbrella organization for these participants is the Global Planners Network(GPN), an international virtual network of “a plurality of voices with diverse and relevant experience to advocate for effective planning. Member organizations work to advance inclusionary and sustainable planning practice worldwide.”

Launch of a planning-annonated version of NUA

GPN members met at Habitat III and agreed to work together to promote and implement the NUA and SDGs. In support of the GPN, ISOCARP has prepared a planning-annotated version of the New Urban Agenda, highlighting planning elements, provides links to online references, a planning Index, and linked Table of Contents.  

Collectively, the New Urban Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals and Issue Papers form a platform to design and implement a global standard of sustainable development. ISOCARP is actively working to implement these through advisory programs, a new training curriculum for planners, and a collaboration with the International Federation of Consulting Engineers to promote ISO 37.101 “Sustainable development of cities and communities – Management system with guidance for resilience and smartness – Requirements for use” with a webinar this month.

ISOCARP encourages all planning organizations and planners to initiate programs and projects to realize the New Urban Agenda as a global planning vision. The Royal Town Planning Institute has long been a leader in sustainable development planning, actively raising awareness amongst its memebrs and through collaborative initiatves. We look forward to our continued partnership in this effort.


Ric Stephens

Ric Stephens

Ric Stephens is President of the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP)