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Home > PUBLICATIONS > Articles

Defining and advancing a systems approach for sustainable cities

July 11, 2017

The sustainable development of cities is increasingly recognized as crucial to meeting collectively agreed sustainability goals at local, regional and global scales, and more broadly to securing human well-being worldwide. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a goal on cities (Goal 11), with most other goals and targets have urban applications and multi scalar implications for their implementation. Further, the interdependencies — including synergies and trade-offs — among the various SDGs are greater in cities, presenting both challenges and opportunities. A systems approach is urgently needed in urban research and policy analysis, but such an approach rarely features in current analysis or urban decision-making for various reasons. This paper explores four questions: why a systems approach is necessary, what defines such an approach, why has this rarely been adopted in practice, and what can be done to promote its use. We argue that a systems approach can reveal unrecognized opportunities to maximize co-benefits and synergies, guide management of inevitable trade-offs, and therefore inform prioritization and successful solutions.

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