GFCP recommendations on how to integrate the SDGs in urban project design published

The effort to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be waged project by project as cities endeavour to meet their development needs. From transport to housing to water to information technology, UN-Habitat estimates the total investment need for infrastructure and the SDGs at $38 trillion for the years 2020–2030, the so-called “Decade of Action” to accelerate SDG implementation. Further, estimates based on the investment trends from the pre-COVID-19 period indicated that there would still be an investment gap of $5.6 trillion following the trend at the time.

How can the SDGs change urban projects for the better? UN-Habitat has released the publication Integrating the SDGs in Urban Project Design: Recommendations from the Global Future Cities Programme which provides recommendations for urban practitioners, local and regional authorities, national policymakers, and investors on how to design urban projects that align with the SDGs and accelerate national efforts to implement the Agenda 2030 through local action in rapidly urbanising cities.

The report is based on the design and implementation of the United Kingdom's Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (UK FCDO) Global Future Cities Programme’s (GFCP)  31 urban projects in 19 cities across 10 emerging economy countries. During this three-year multi-partner programme, city authorities contracted with five private sector consortiums under guidance from UN-Habitat and the UK Built Environment Advisory Group (UKBEAG). The results show that there is a strong appetite to translate the global vision of the SDGs to the project level.

The private sector is responding to the SDGs because they recognize that the goals and targets go beyond financial value. There’s no doubt that the Global Goals are gaining traction and changing the way in which business is done,” said Shipra Narang Suri, Chief of the Urban Practices Branch at UN-Habitat. “One of the fundamental shifts is from thinking about deliverables to thinking about impacts. That simple statement encourages people to work much more collaboratively, break out of their silos and think about policymaking more holistically.”

As the global programme is transitioning to the next stage, the publication shares valuable lessons for programmes which aim to support urban development projects that are deliverable, fundable bankable, and sustainable.

Going beyond “business as usual” with a focus on the SDGs

To tackle the interwoven challenges facing cities in the Decade of Action, the GFCP seeks to go beyond the “business-as-usual" approach to sustainable development. The Programme presents a unique opportunity for sharing best practices and lessons learned.

The GFCP has helped build the capacity of local authorities to steer private sector delivery partners to address the most pressing needs of cities and communities, and integrate social, environmental, institutional, and financial safeguards into project deliverables. 

By incorporating UN-Habitat's SDG Project Assessment Tool into project design, the Programme has guided project partners to localise the SDGs, thus enhancing the quality of projects. The tool helped embed projects in the local context, ensuring alignment with the SDGs, and identifying constraints and opportunities for maximising impact in the short, medium, and long term. 

Applying the innovative SDG Tool, which translates the SDGs into achievable project actions, shows how the SDGs can be integrated in project development and design. It also demonstrates how sharing knowledge and experiences between global and local partners contributes to increased awareness and understanding of the SDGs, along with peer-to-peer learning about how to achieve them.   

The report highlights eight key drivers that urban practitioners, local and regional authorities, national policymakers, and investors need to consider when designing and implementing a multi-partner programme like the GFCP. These include: 

  • Social inclusion
  • Economic development
  • Spatial planning
  • Environmental resilience
  • Data-driven processes and management
  • Local capacity for project implementation
  • Urban governance and legal frameworks
  • Financial strategies

Recommendations for future projects

As city authorities and the private sector embark on new urban projects, UN-Habitat offers the lessons learned from the Global Future Cities Programme as a guidepost for the future. The report concludes with a set of recommendations to inform the next generation of urban projects.

Urban projects that seek to align with the SDGs should aim to: 

  • Integrate and mainstream social inclusion strategies throughout project phases via meaningful participation that makes intentional use of digital technology for community engagement.
  • Practice comprehensive spatial planning that relates urban projects to other interventions to build on synergies and avoid redundancy.
  • Encourage the use of active, sustainable modes of transport through urban planning and design, paired with awareness-raising and incentives. 
  • Make projects environmentally resilient by building resiliency for urban stakeholders, especially those most vulnerable to environmental risks, and designing with nature through climate-responsive interventions.
  • Ensure that climate adaptation projects are comprehensive and incorporated into citywide frameworks to avoid addressing climate risks through urban projects that operate as standalone efforts.
  • Design data-driven processes and management by building a data governance framework structured around specific data-driven committees with clearly defined tasks.
  • Conduct in-depth data mapping to improve and optimise data-oriented services as well as source disaggregated data to ensure that hidden inequalities are addressed through policymaking.
  • Acknowledge and enhance the capacity of local urban actors across all sectors and at all levels as a critical component of securing long-term project implementation.
  • Assess local capacities and involve local partners to deliver context-specific projects that enhance local economic growth.
  • Endorse strong urban governance and legal frameworks that develop strategic action plans to increase projects’ long-term impact.
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities at all levels of government as a hedge against overlapping mandates.
  • Integrate financial strategies early in the planning process to ensure that the ambitions of planners and policymakers match the realities of financing.

In the Decade of Action, UN-Habitat is ramping up its efforts to accelerate action on the SDGs in cities by collaborating with donors, city authorities, national governments, and delivery partners on SDG-oriented programmes like the Global Future Cities Programme. The agency invites partners to join this effort.

By working together, across cities, countries, and disciplines, partners can drive transformative urban development for cities that are resilient, inclusive, and able to withstand climate change and future pandemics. 

Please download the report from here.




Federative Republic of Brazil

Republic of Indonesia


Republic of the Union of Myanmar

Federal Republic of Nigeria

Republic of the Philippines

Republic of South Africa

Kingdom of Thailand

Republic of Turkey

Socialist Republic of Viet Nam


Belo Horizonte





Iskandar Malaysia





New Clark City

Cape Town







Ho Chi Minh City


Spatial Planning

Strategy & Planning


Risk & Resilience

Data Systems


Gregory Scruggs

Urban Journalist, Communications Professional