In a new article published in the Cities and Health Journal this month, co-authors Joana Correia, Project Development Manager with the Cities Programme, along with RMIT’s Professor Ralph Horne and other researchers from the Centre for Urban Research, explore the question, “How and in what way can the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] and the New Urban Agenda be invoked in urban projects in order to deliver liveability and sustainability beyond ‘business-as-usual.’“

In order to deliver on the New Urban Agenda [NUA] and the SDGs, city actors, processes and priorities must change, and new networks and programs established, aimed at delivering sustainable and resilient urbanisation. With this in mind, the article draws upon two Cities Programme case studies, the multi-year Bakery Hill Urban Renewal Project being undertaken as part of the Australian City Partnerships Challenge Pilot with the City of Ballarat, and on-going work from the Bangkok Liveability Resilience Program that was undertaken in 2017 in partnership with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, RMIT, Victorian Department of Health and Human Services and VicHealth.

Viewing the projects through a ‘social determinants of health’ lens that align with the SDGs and NUA, the article looks at how both cities are working to become “safe, attractive, socially cohesive and inclusive, environmentally sustainable with affordable and diverse housing linked via public transport, walking and cycling to employment, education, public open space, local shops, health and community services, and leisure and cultural opportunities.”

In both cases, trust across a range of stakeholders is a vital prerequisite to the development of necessary new and innovative funding models, and public/private partnerships envisaged to ultimately fund sustainable urban renewal. “While the balance and outcome is not guaranteed, and regressive effects of gentrification cannot be ruled out, the legitimacy of the SDG and NUA language and commitment across stakeholders, arguably, increases the chance of achieving outcomes that are more sustainable and inclusive than business-as-usual, market-based approaches would be likely to deliver.” Business-as-usual city development has been attributed with worsening inequity, rising greenhouse gas emissions and failing accountability to citizens, as markets and business priorities take precedence.

For the City of Ballarat, going beyond ‘business-as-usual’ is integral to transform the historic Bakery Hill site, (which is of national significance and a notable eastern entry point to the city) into a thriving, inclusive and sustainable urban centre for the city, and to overcome challenging shifts in the retail sector, a lack of appropriate transport options and housing, and tackle environmental issues such as scarce vegetation and areas that are prone to flooding during heavy-rainfall periods. The city is using the SDG link to enable a diverse range of partners to co-create a shared vision for the precinct and the community.

For the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, factors such as mobility, traffic, unhealthy environments and unequal access to high-quality schools, exacerbated by social inequalities, unemployment and insecure work, has triggered new ways of thinking to overcome these challenges. With the vast majority of the evidence for, and indicators of, liveability being developed within the high-income city and country context, there is little known about how this knowledge translates to low and middle income contexts.  Through an international partnership, knowledge of liveability in an Australian context has been repositioned for Bangkok in an effort to respond to the most pressing urban issues, and focusing on the development of liveability indicators as a way of engaging a diverse range of stakeholders in the New Urban Agenda.

The article demonstrates that whether the intervention is at the urban renewal project scale (Ballarat) or at the broader urban monitoring scale (Bangkok), where the language of the SDGs is combined with active local engagement, they create a legitimacy that marshals resources and a strategic direction that might not otherwise be a predominant factor in the planning and implementation of city projects.

Read more about the two case studies in the full article here.