By Sandra Ruckstuhl

TheGlobalGoals_SanJose_ALLPhoto_2.1With over 50% of the world’s population living in urban areas, cities are crucial to the fulfillment of sustainable development. They are also testimony to the universal nature of our challenges: unemployment, deteriorating infrastructure, traffic and safety issues, sub-standard educational achievement and social exclusion.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an opportunity to address these profound challenges at the city level through clear and compelling goals, participation of all stakeholders, targeted long-term policies, and public-private investments.

Under a program entitled the USA Sustainable Cities Initiative (USA-SCI), SDSN is working in partnership with leading academic institutions to support the technical process of developing long-term SDG-based strategies in select US cities, including San José, California and Baltimore, Maryland.  The partnership is kick-starting this endeavor by providing: a common platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue; technical assistance for developing quantitative targets and indicators; educational materials and tools for awareness raising; and exchange with other cities pursuing SDG strategies.  These USA-SCI cities will be global pioneers: the first to develop SDG-based city-level development strategies that will serve as a model for cities worldwide.

Local Universities Lead in Localizing SDGs in American Cities

In Baltimore in Fall 2015, SDSN established a partnership with the University of Baltimore (see press release here), launching collaboration with the College of Public Affairs and the Merrick School Working session photoof Business, as well as with the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland.  On the opposite coast, in a city with different set of development challenges, San José State University joined US SDG efforts as SDSN’s lead unive
rsity partner.

Determined not to “reinvent the wheel” with a new strategy for each of their cities, SDSN’s partners are using the SDGs as a framework for assessing current policies and plans in each city, and they are pushing hard to synthesize those strategies, taking stock of the data that has informed them, and mapping out the agencies and organizations that are implementing these plans and maintaining monitoring data.  This way, the USA SDG initiative can maximize resources by capitalizing on current work and expertise and promoting a more coordinated effort to improve development plans.  San José and Baltimore are each developing a unique model for taking stock and informing their city’s development plans and strategies.

SDGs as a Guide to Inform Policies and Plans in San José

At SJSU, Professor Hilary Nixon, Chair of the Urban and Regional Planning Department is leading the foundational activity of taking stock of San José’s existing strategies by conducting a thorough review of the city’s 2007 Green Vision and  General Plan, mapping stated goals against the framework of SDG targets.   SJSU is also engaging with four city strategy efforts that are currently underway – the quadrennial Master Plan Update, Green Vision, My Brother’s Keeper and Civic Innovation Strategy – to provide recommendations on how those plans could align with the SDGs.  Additionally,
through consultations with city staff, SJSU is conducting a review of indicator data and monitoring and evaluation systems that are currently in place to track progress toward the city’s SDG-related targets.TheGlobalGoals_SanJose_ALLPhoto_2.1


Building Data Solutions in the Heart of Silicon Valley

San José, nested within one of the most innovative locations in the world – Silicon Valley – is at the threshold of creating novel data systems that could be used as a model for SDG initiatives in other cities worldwide. There is a potential opportunity to take advantage of the region’s expertise and develop a system that could feed data from multiple stakeholders into an accessible, user-friendly portal for visualizing and tracking data. Dr. Nixon’s assessment of these portals and tools will provide lessons and ideas for others to take on board.  All of Dr. Nixon’s recommendations for aligning the city’s strategies and data monitoring systems with the SDG initiative will be shared in a report in May-June 2016, and this report will be shared with city staff.  In addition to supporting sustainable development in San José, this report could provide creative insight for other cities’ SDG efforts.

Taking Stock of Development Strategies in Baltimore

In Baltimore, to jumpstart an informed discussion with stakeholders on incorporating the SDGs into Baltimore’s city strategies, the Baltimore university team began reviewing a series of city plans (click here for a list) and mapped existing targets named in those documents against the framework of the 17 SDGs (click here to view the draft results of the mapping exercise).  The results of the mapping exercise revealed good practices and potential areas for improvement for incorporating the SDGs into new plans, such as the forthcoming Baltimore Sustainability Plan.


Preparing SDG-related Recommendations for Baltimore’s Development

The team has been convening a series of meetings with city stakeholders in order to identify existing, feasible, relevant and continuously maintained proxy datasets that can be used to track the city’s progress toward quantifiable SDG-related targets.  However, broad community engagement is required to make the SDG effort in Baltimore a success.  On March 3, SDSN’s local NGO partner, Communities Without Boundaries International, convened the first of a series of meetings to engage local organizations, inform them of the SDG initiative and prepare them to participate in the effort.  And further opportunities for community engagement have been revealed in recent weeks: The past year in Baltimore has been one of soul-searching and reform-minded discussion — formally, informally, and via social media.

Listening to Baltimoreans

There are many community “listening” initiatives currently taking place in Baltimore, and the Baltimore team has now determined to connect these to the USA Sustainable Cities Initiative in Baltimore.   Through this “listening-to-the-listening” process the team plans to engage with several community engagement efforts in Baltimore:

To share the locally-informed recommendations that are being developed through these consultations, in Summer 2016 the Baltimore team will release a final report recommended targets, indicators and monitoring methods.

Both city’s final reports will be shared via the the SDSN website this summer.  And stay tuned for information on those launch events!  In the meantime, more information is to come from both San Jose and Baltimore, as they are launching websites to provide more information to the general public on the work they are doing and details on how community members can get involved.  We hope these websites can also serve as a resource for other cities to see how the SDG effort is being localized.  Watch for more news here when those resources have been posted online.

Follow the Baltimore initiative at #SDGBaltimore.