UN-Habitat was a pioneer in the collection of urban indicators data. In 1991, UN-Habitat initiated the Housing Indicators program, this program evolved in 1993, to the Urban Indicators Program, in order to focus more on urban issues, to compile and monitor data on a sample of urban cities around the world. Afterwards, the program was expanded to include specific indicators of the Habitat Agenda adopted in 1996 in Istanbul. The Global Urban Indicators Database produced in 2003 and updated annually addresses the Habitat Agenda’s key issues, with a specific focus on the Global Development Goals, particularly, MDGs, SDGs, Paris Climate Agreement, New Urban Agenda, etc. (https://data.unhabitat.org/). Indeed, GUO was responsible for the monitoring of the slum target as part of the Millennium Development Goals and the Habitat Agenda. Since its development, the evidence from the urban indicators database has been very useful in the development of the world cities report and other regional reports (Africa, Asia, LAC), UN-Habitat’s flagship products.
Tools and methodologies
Urban Observatory model
To help find creative solutions to the urban information crisis, UN-Habitat developed the urban observatory model for urban data collection and analysis, in partnership with cities around the world. Urban observatories are well-positioned to address the frequently expressed need for reliable, high resolution urban datasets specific to the cities and immediate city-regions in which they operate. They assist in strengthening data capacities at national, sub-national, and local levels, providing platforms to facilitate effective knowledge exchange and promote evidence-based governance built on a shared knowledge base.
Over the years, UN-Habitat has been providing systematic guidance on setting up these observatories to many countries leading to the development of a global network of local, national and regional urban stations, the Global Urban Observatory Network (GUO-Net), a worldwide information and capacity-building network to help implement the New Urban Agenda at the national and local levels. DAU has conducted several regional workshops (Africa, Asia, Arab States, Latin America, etc.) to enhance the capacities of Local Urban observatories and share with them new tools and approaches that are suitable for global monitoring of NUA and SDGs targets.
This critical mass of urban observatories constitutes a very important asset for the monitoring and reporting of the international agendas such as the NUA and the SDGs as they lead the local level engagements on collecting, analyzing and interpretations of data for urban indicators through consultative and inclusive processes.
The National Sample of Cities
Many urban SDG indicators require data collection at the local/city level. This means that countries are compelled to define and identify the number of cities they have, collect data on all these cities and aggregate upwards the national level average performance of these city-specific indicators. For many countries, it is not possible to collect information and report on all their cities, and this is particularly true for those that have limited resources (financial, institutional, human and systems). For such countries, UN-Habitat recommends the application of the National Sample of Cities (NSC) approach which will allow them to systematically select a sample of representative cities from their territory to prepare more systematic national level reporting.
The NSC is a carefully constructed consistent sample of cities that considers sub-regional and city specific characteristics and variances to monitor the dominant pattern in the country’s cities in an aggregated manner in a given country, thereby helping measure national progress in a more systematic and scientific manner.
Spatial Data Integration Models
A clear understanding of urban patterns and trends require use of Earth Observation and Geospatial Information (EO & GI) technologies, which are central to not only the production of data but also critical for translating multiple data into easy to understand products for decision makers and the public. Today, EO & GI technologies are no longer an optional consideration but a must in every data management strategy at all levels. Within the monitoring and reporting frameworks for global agendas such as the SDGs and the NUA, these technologies are deeply entrenched into the data needs, with at least seven (7) of SDG 11 indicators requiring some form of spatial data collection and analysis at local/urban level. These include indicators 11.2.1 on public transport; 11.3.1 on urbanization trends and urban land consumption patterns; 11.5.1 and 11.5.2 on disaster risk reduction; 11.6.1 and 11.6.2 on urban solid waste and air quality patterns; 11.7.1 on urban access to public space; and 11.b climate change and resilience. Computations required for these indicators can be attained through spatial analysis techniques using remote sensing and geographic information systems. In addition, these technologies are invaluable for understanding the spatial manifestation/ distribution of phenomena across all the 232 SDG indicators, and helping in sustainable urbanization and development decision making processes.
The Global Urban Monitoring Framework
The Global Urban Monitoring Framework (UMF) was endorsed by the UN Statistical Commission in March 2022 for implementation as part of the Harmonized Global UN Systemwide Strategy for monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and New Urban Agenda (NUA) and other regional, national, and subnational urban programs. It harmonizes existing urban indices and tools, including the widely implemented City Prosperity Index (CPI). The framework aims at ensuring thematic integration and inter-linkages among various dimensions of development, disaggregation of data, and inclusion of groups that are traditionally excluded. It promotes working at different scales and functional urban areas, including ecological functional areas, enabling city comparability, and the possibility of more in-depth policy analysis.
The UMF also serves as a monitoring tool for UN-Habitat's SDG Cities Flagship Programme and supports reporting through the Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) and the preparation of urban data for the UN Common Country Assessments. It comprises of a set of metrics that guide stakeholders to evaluate progress of cities and urban areas by indicators, domains, city objectives, and against other cities globally.
The framework was developed in response to the request of the United Nations Statistical Commission that called for a peer review mechanism of existing urban indices and monitoring tools, as well as the need to develop and adopt an urban monitoring framework. Its development involved a consultative process led by UN-Habitat and involving 36 partners from the UN system, cities and local governments, national governments, civil society, and academia and research organizations, among others.
Several cities are already implementing the framework with the guidance of UN-Habitat. The framework is designed to allow adaption in its implementation.
City Prosperity Initiative
UN-Habitat’s City Prosperity Index (CPI) is a practical and flexible framework developed for the formulation, implementation and monitoring of policies and practices on sustainable development to increase prosperity and sustainability of cities. The CPI integrates indicators for urban SDGs to address, in a single framework, the environmental, social and economic components of city prosperity and sustainability. The CPI relies on six dimensions that are contextually specific and globally comparable: productivity, infrastructure development, quality of life, equity and social inclusion, environmental sustainability, governance and legislation. The index, which is computed using city level data measures how cities create and distribute socio-economic benefits and prosperity. The level of prosperity of a city is measured through the extent to which the city has achieved all these six dimensions of prosperity.
Since 2012, UN-Habitat has been working with various local, national governments and international organizations in the adoption of the CPI as a single, harmonized monitoring framework for the global agendas. By 2019, CPI has been applied to evaluate urban performance in 539 cities in 54 countries spread across all world regions, with most of these cities using the information generated for data-driven and informed decision-making processes (See map below). Countries using this tool are able identify, quantify, evaluate, monitor and report on progress made by cities in a more structured manner.
Monitoring and reporting of SDGs and NUA
As the UN focal point for sustainable urbanization and human settlements, UN-Habitat has been designated as a custodian agency for 9 of the 15 indicators under SDG 11, and supports the monitoring and reporting of 4 indicators in other goals.
As such, the Agency is leading the methodological developments of guides and tools for the urban-related SDG indicators and targets, as well as working with other UN agencies and various stakeholders to strengthen the capacity of countries and cities to efficiently monitor and report on these indicators.
Specifically, since 2016, UN-Habitat and other custodian agencies in collaboration with various stakeholders developed new and relevant guides, materials and refined urban concepts and definitions, but also supported Member States to set up the required monitoring systems for Goal 11 and other urban SDGs, creating the conditions for producing and using urban data for policy-making and informing transformative actions. These guides and materials include a global framework for monitoring human settlements indicators, a technical note on the national sample of cities methodology, a guide on setting up urban observatories, a technical note on the City Prosperity Index, as well as nine training modules on SDG 11 indicators . These tools are now being used as training materials for the country-level and regional workshops on Human Settlement Indicators.
Equally important is the significant progress being made in the harmonization of urban data production for better comparability. Wide consultations between UN-Habitat and other partners were conducted to adopt a standalone functional definition of cities and urban areas to enable countries to better compare and aggregate data in a consistent manner. UN-Habitat has also developed the National Sample of Cities approach to ensure a systemic reporting, higher comparability within and among countries, and to enable the aggregation of regional values. In parallel, the agency is now finalizing the NUA indicators framework which will be used to track progress for implementation of the NUA among member states.
Significant progress has been made in the development of national capacities to collect, analyze, and use urban data for monitoring progress in the implementation of the urban SDGs. Since 2016, 26 capacity development workshops have been organized with nearly 1000+ participants drawn from over 50 countries where national statistical offices, local and national governments, civil society, academia, public and private institutions, and representatives from special groups such as youth, women and persons with disabilities were trained.
Specifically, UN-Habitat and partners have jointly conducted a number of regional and international workshops, including: an international workshop on human settlements indicators linked to SDGs in Naivasha, Kenya, in February 2017 (93 participants from 31 countries), a regional workshop on human settlements indicators for Africa organized with ECA in December 2017 (38 participants from 11 countries), a regional workshop on human settlements indicators for Asia Pacific countries organized with ESCAP in March 2018 (46 participants from 14 countries), a regional workshop for Arab States organized with ESCWA in July 2018 (32 participants from 11 countries), an international workshop on human settlements statistics in Kuala Lumpur, in February 2018 as part of the World Urban Forum (85 participants from 27 countries), and 5 regional workshops on global city definitions in October and November 2018, January, March and June 2019 (about 160 participants from about 70 countries ) .
At the local level, UN-Habitat has been supporting a few city authorities and local development partners to put in place strategies to localize the monitoring of SDGs and NUA, including aligning plans, setting up inclusive monitoring partnerships and deploying SDG urban tools to better articulate data and policies. For example, as part of a development account project on urban SDGs, UN-Habitat, ECA and ECLAC have reinforced national and city level capacities of urban monitoring in Botswana and Tunisia in Africa; Ecuador and Colombia in Latin America and the Caribbean, enabling the 4 countries to serve as centers of learning for many other countries across Africa and beyond, in addition to enhancing their own internal systems of reporting on the progress on spatially-dependent urban SDGs indicators and the NUA.