When Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivered her first budget address last month, she spoke of her commitment to equity and prosperity “for every community and every resident.” She emphasized that the “budget is more than just a math problem…It’s a values statement for what we prioritize and the kind of city we want to be.” Areas for investment include health care and well-being, safe streets, housing, education, clean air and clean water, and neighborhood development with the goal of “leaving no one behind.”
These priorities are also part of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are not an abstract global concept: they are a framework for action and a list of ambitious targets for bringing peace and prosperity to individual lives and the planet.
Cities around the world have begun to map their own strategies onto the SDGs to accelerate progress on their own local goals, and Chicago should too.
A global movement is underway in cities from Los Angeles to Helsinki, from Mannheim to Freetown, building solidarity to radically address hunger and poverty, combat climate change, ensure peace and justice, reduce inequalities, build sustainable communities, and protect the planet. Through a process created by New York City, known as a Voluntary Local Review (VLR), cities are using the SDGs as a framework to assess where they are succeeding or falling behind to improve their own local strategies.
Conducting a review aligned against the SDGs would help Chicago too. The process brings together key stakeholders across the city and helps unify them around common strategic goals that benefit everyone. It helps attract new resources and opens up direct access to capital. Los Angeles, for example, has an SDG Fellow in the Mayor’s Office supported by a local foundation. A VLR also connects the city with a network of peers around the world who are exchanging best practices and solutions to common challenges.
Mapping city development strategies onto the SDGs is not just the responsibility of governments, either. Their leadership and voice are essential, but they can also mobilize a wide range of partners. Again, Chicago has many exemplary institutions making a difference every day on issues related to the SDGs. Heartland Alliance is tackling poverty, the Greater Chicago Food Depository works to end hunger, the Communities Partnering for Peace initiative is building peace and justice, Openlands is working on the environment, and the Shedd Aquarium is leading cutting-edge research on water. Or look at the private sector and companies focused on the circular economy and responsible production and consumption in the supply chain. The Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation at the University of Chicago recently hosted the Global Symposium on Sustainable Cities and Neighborhoods with UN Habitat that highlighted the wealth of partners, particularly in neighborhoods, eager to help cities and Chicago achieve its goals.
While a number of cities worldwide have started conducting voluntary local reviews, Chicago could become a global leader in strategies to further localize these goals by aligning its recently announced plans for neighborhood development with a new kind of voluntary local review process, neighborhood by neighborhood. This would energize local communities and civic organizations and contribute to narrowing gaps in opportunity and well-being in different parts of the city.
The exercise doesn’t have to drain resources from city coffers. In the United Kingdom, Bristol shared open data with researchers at the University of Bristol to conduct and publish its analysis. With its open data portals and wealth of motivated researchers and universities, Chicago could call upon a network of institutions and partners to help conduct a VLR.
The world is filled with challenges and crises that are manifesting themselves most acutely in cities, many of which are also found in Chicago. As a recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ report points out, “the SDGs are currently the best embodiment of global collective agreement about the urgency to move forward.”
Chicago is on a journey to radically transform its future and improve the quality of life for every resident. Aligning with the global goals can unlock the city’s potential, excite collaborations within the city and beyond, and accelerate its transformation.