What is Urban Planning

Urban Planning is the 11th goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2030)

But also includes the other 16 Goals, as Urban Planning is the physical application that responds to the SDGs.

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The Un-Habitat defines Urban Planning as:

Urban and territorial planning can be defined as a decision-making process aimed at realizing economic, social, cultural and environmental goals through the development of spatial visions, strategies and plans and the application of a set of policy principles, tools, institutional and participatory mechanisms and regulatory procedures.


Urban and territorial planning has an inherent and fundamental economic function. It is a powerful instrument for reshaping the forms and functions of cities and regions in order to generate endogenous economic growth, prosperity and employment, while addressing the needs of the most vulnerable, marginalized or underserved groups.


The Guidelines promote key urban and territorial planning principles and recommendations that can assist all countries and cities to effectively guide urban demographic changes (growth, stagnation or decline) and improve the quality of life in existing and new urban settlements. Taking into account the principle of subsidiarity and the specific governance arrangements of each country, the Guidelines should be used through the multiscale continuum of spatial planning:

  • At supranational and transboundary level, multinational regional strategies could help direct investment to address global issues such as climate change and energy efficiency, enable the integrated expansion of urban areas in cross-border regions, mitigate natural risks and improve the sustainable management of shared natural resources.
  • At national level, national plans could take advantage of existing and planned economic poles and large infrastructure in order to support, structure and balance the system of towns and cities, including in urban corridors and river basins, to fully unleash their economic potential.
  • At city-region and metropolitan level, subnational regional plans could foster economic development by promoting regional economies of scale and agglomeration, increasing productivity and prosperity, strengthening urban-rural linkages and adaptation to climate change impacts, reducing disaster risks and intensity in the use of energy, addressing social and spatial disparities and promoting territorial cohesion and complementarities in both growing and declining areas.
  • At city and municipal level, city development strategies and integrated development plans could prioritize investment decisions and encourage synergies and interactions between separate urban areas. Land-use plans could contribute to the protection of environmentally sensitive areas and to the regulation of land markets. Urban extension and infill plans could minimize transport and service delivery costs, optimize the use of land and support the protection and organization of urban open spaces. Urban upgrading and retrofitting plans could increase residential and economic densities and promote more socially integrated communities.
  • At neighborhood level, street development and public space plans and layouts could improve urban quality, social cohesion and inclusion, and the protection of local resources. Participatory planning and budgeting, involving communities in managing urban commons, such as public spaces and services, could contribute to improved spatial integration and connectivity, human security and resilience, local democracy and social accountability.

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Approaches to Urban Planning by the UN

UNICEF is responding to these increasing risks by developing global policies and programmes that focus on building sustainable cities for and with children and young people, in close partnership with the private sector and municipal leaders.


United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) research and metrics for sustainable urbanization. Urbanization has the potential to usher in a new era of well-being, resource efficiency and economic growth.


UNESCO is committed to enhancing the sustainability of cities through policy advice, technical assistance and capacity building, drawing on its longstanding normative and operational experience in the fields of education, sciences, culture, communication and development.

UNESCO urban Programmes:

  • UNESCO Creative Cities Network
  • UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities
  • Megacities Alliance for Water and Climate
  • Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience
  • International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities
  • World Heritage Cities Programme
  • Media and Information Literacy Cities
  • UNESCO-Netexplo Observatory Cooperation on Smart Cities

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UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) is the office dealing with urbanization. It has a strong planning element and has issued reports and guidelines for planning. UN-Habitat organizes the world's largest urban conference, the World Urban Forum, every two years. Habitat is advised by the World Urban Campaign, which includes the Global Planners Network along with dozens of other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).