New Book on U.N. Sustainable Development Goals Published

book coverResearch Associate Professor Seema Iyer makes headlines every year with her work focused the reliable and actionable quality of life indicators for Baltimore’s neighborhoods. While busily working of the next release of the annual Vital Signs report, she and David Abraham, a scholar of environmental planning and policy, published a book titled “Promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in North American Cities: Case Studies & Best Practices in the Science of Sustainability Indicators.”

In September 2015, the member countries of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which defined new standards for a global commitment to the three interrelated pillars/objectives: economic development, social development, and environmental development. The SDGs form a cohesive and integrated package of global aspirations framed as goals that individual countries commit to achieve by 2030. The 17 SDGs address the most pressing global challenges of our time, calling upon collaborative partnerships across and between countries to address universal, integrated challenges to sustainable development. The SDGs include goals for addressing job loss , deteriorating infrastructure, social exclusion, and climate change, among many other issues facing societies today. The SDG agenda comes at a time when more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. As this portion of the population grows at a rapid speed, so too do the complex development challenges in these locations.

The SDGs can provide a long-term and sustainable approach to city planning by providing a suite of clear, common, and objective goals that can be continuously pursued irrespective of political cycles. Ensuring full ownership of the goals through an inclusive, participatory dialogue is of paramount importance to the success of the SDG agenda. The goals must ultimately act as the common language for government, business, and citizens and represent a shared ideal to be pursued at the city level but also within each community. The SDGs, therefore, must be localized through a fully representative and inclusive participatory planning process.

The quest to build sustainable cities that advance global progress is putting mayors and local government leaders at the forefront of change. This trajectory is triggering broad interest and investment in urban development. The SDGs provide a set of integrated objectives that comprise a more complete and sustainable vision of urban development, which provides equal living and working opportunities to all inhabitants, to promote healthy living environments and resilience against the array of everyday challenges and risks that we face today.

This edited volume presents North American best practices and perspectives on developing, managing, and monitoring indicators to track development progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in local communities and cities. The invited authors present case studies from Canadian and U.S. cities such as Baltimore, Los Angeles, Houston, Winnipeg, and Vancouver showing a range of differences regarding adoption and policy support for the SDGs.

This volume presents North American best practices and perspectives on developing, managing and monitoring indicators to track development progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in local communities and cities. In four main sections, the book presents and frames the many ways in which community indicator programs are either integrating or retooling to integrate the SDGs into their existing frameworks, or how they are developing new programs to track and report progress on the SDGs. This is the first volume that focuses on SDG adoption within the context of North Americans cities and communities, and the unique issues and opportunities prevalent in these settings. The chapters are developed by experienced academics and practitioners of community planning and sustainable development, and will add broad perspective on public policy, organizational management, information management and data visualization.

This volume presents a case-study approach to chapters, offering lessons that can be used by three main audiences:

  1. teachers and researchers in areas of urban, regional, and environmental planning, urban development, and public policy;
  2. professional planners, decision-makers, and urban managers; and
  3. sustainability activists and interested groups.

Recurring themes in this Volume on Sustainable Development Goals for North American Cities include:

  1. Mapping local priorities, programs, and indicators to the national SDGs is a critical task that must be locally performed and communicated . The ability to tailor the localization approach is a hallmark feature of the SDGs.
  2. Localization has both been able to leverage existing local indicator systems and learn from the experiential knowledge these local systems have attained.
  3. When localization has occurred, the impetus has predominantly come from the bottom-up in most of these cities. Even in the cities that were invited to be a part of the USA-SCI, these pilot projects were only possible with local, on-the-ground groups making the case.
  4. Low awareness of what the SDGs are and lack of leadership in North American cities will hamper future attempts to localize them. More work needs to be done to bring the growing international excitement to North American cities.
  5. The SDG framework can be used to highlight gaps in local indicator systems or priorities. The SDGs represent a new language or way to communicate the comprehensive themes in urban- and country-level development.
  6. Local jurisdictions in the United States are strategic for implementing SDGs since they are notable for having broad autonomy in decision-making and adoption and implementation of policies, as long as these do not contradict state or federal laws or statutes.


About the Authors

David B. Abraham, Ph.D. is a scholar of Environmental Planning and Policy, specializing in Sustainability Planning and Performance Measurement. His research interests focus on developing sustainability strategies for the enhancement of living places. His research and professional experience includes: Food insecurity planning; Health and well-being impacts from the built environment; Urban forestry sustainability strategies; Resiliency and revitalization community planning; and Community performance metrics. His work has been featured at workshops, keynote agendas and conference proceedings throughout the US and internationally in Ireland, Barbados, Brazil, Canada and Portugal. Dr. Abraham is a Research Scientist and Lecturer with the Houston Sustainability Indicators project at Rice University.

Seema D. Iyer, Ph.D. oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at the Jacob France Institute (BNIA-JFI) at the University of Baltimore, which has been dedicated to providing reliable, community-based indicators for Baltimore’s neighborhoods since 2000. BNIA-JFI is the local partner of the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a network of cities that provide longitudinal data on demographics, housing, crime, education and sustainability. Under her leadership, BNIA-JFI has received several awards for its role in increasing accessibility to indicators for organizations such as the Community Indicators Consortium (2016), Harvard Ash Center (2017) and the Association of Public Data Users (2018). Since 2015, she has been involved in the City of Baltimore’s localization of the SDGs and has advised cities around the world on how they can work with indicator programs to help monitor progress. She is also director of the UB’s undergraduate program in Real Estate and Economic Development. Dr. Iyer was a 2017 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar in Bangalore, India, researching the role of urban governance for metropolitan economic competitiveness. Her blog from the experience is available at She holds a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from the University of Michigan.

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