Urban Data

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


UN-Habitat in partnership with its stakeholders developed the urban observatory model, an innovative model for urban data monitoring, collection and analysis. Today, UN-Habitat’s Data and Analytics Unit (DAU) oversees and coordinates the over 374 urban observatories worldwide: 101 in Africa, 143 in Asia and 130 in Latin. Over the past decade, systematic guidance on setting up urban observatories has been provided to Member States leading to the development of a global network of observatories(GUO-Net). 

Urban observatories are well-positioned to meet the frequently expressed need for reliable, high resolution urban data sets specific to the cities and immediate city-regions in which they operate. They assist in strengthening data capacities at national and subnational levels, providing platforms to facilitate effective knowledge exchange and promote evidence-based governance built on a shared knowledge base.

The purpose of GUO-Net is to support governments, local authorities and civil society:

  • To improve the collection, management, analysis and use of information in formulating more effective urban policies;

  • To improve information flows between all levels for better urban decision-making;

  • To stimulate broad-based consultative processes to help identify and integrate urban information needs;

  • To provide information and analyses to all stakeholders for more effective participation in urban decision-making;

  • To share information, knowledge and expertise using modern information and communication technology (ICT);

  • To create a global network of local, national and regional platforms for sharing information about the implementation of the New Urban Agenda;

  • Training on using the urban indicator toolkit for data collection and analysis; 

  • Training on how to use the results of the urban indicators data for fund raising activities;

  • Organise conferences of the network members for information exchange and city-to-city networking;

UN-HABITAT achieves these objectives through a global network of local, national and regional urban observatories and through partner institutions that provide training and other capacity building expertise.

Key Documents

A Guide to Setting up an Urban Observatory

• Guide Pour La Mise En Œuvre d’un Observatoire Urbain - Version Populaire

The National Sample of Cities

UN-Habitat’s Data and analytics Section developed the “national sample of cities” approach to facilitate reporting at regional and global levels on locally produced/collected urban SDGs indicators data. This approach allows countries to derive from a complete listing of all their urban centres/cities a representative sample of cities that reflects their systems of cities and ensure that they take into account sub-regional and city specific characteristics and variances. Using this approach, UN-Habitat and partners assist countries in creating conditions to monitor and report on a consistent set of cities that enable them to produce time series analysis to measure national progress in a more systematic and scientific manner. In addition, the national sample of cities facilitates an economical way of targeting and setting up appropriate monitoring and reporting systems for cities in countries where resources are a big constraint.

The national sample of cities (NSC) is a carefully constructed representative 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 any given country. The NSC is drawn using sound statistical and scientific methodologies based on several relevant city-specific criteria/characteristics that capture the specific contexts of countries, ensuring that the sample is consistent and representative of a given country’s territory, geography, size, history, etc.   The adoption of NSC approach is a choice that a country must make after weighing the options available for national level monitoring of all cities to report for SDG indicators. Hence, countries that have the resources and means to monitor all their urban centres/cities are able to continue with that option while those with constraints can adopt the NSC approach.

Key Documents

The National Sample of Cities

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 and countries are already implementing the framework with the guidance of UN-Habitat.

For more details and to participate in the framework’s implementation, please write to us: unhabitat-statistics@un.org and Robert.ndugwa@un.org.


The Global Urban Monitoring Framework

Monitoring the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals

The Data and Analytics Section (DAU) carries out activities pertaining to the monitoring of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals relating to human settlements, including achieving a significant improvement in the lives of those living in informal settlements (slum dwellers), and halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Using the city as a unit of analysis, the programme regularly updates the system of urban indicators available for city-level and urban national level monitoring.

DAU coordinates the use of urban indicators as specified in the New Urban Agenda guidelines and the SDGs through the harmonized Global Urban Monitoring Framework. DAU also produces the Global Urban Indicators Database and contributes to the United Nations Secretary General reports on the Sustainable Development Goals. It also ensures that reliable and up-to-date urban information is available for reports, messages and speeches of the Executive Director and other representatives of the Agency.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define the shared vision for the future we want, and sets specific targets which countries agreed to work towards by 2030. At the centre of the 17 goals, 169 targets and 232 indicators is the recognition of the value of the force of urbanization in attainment and/or lack of achieving sustainability. With about 56% of the world population living in cities and urban areas in 2020 - which is estimated to further increase to 60% by 2030, these areas will play a very significant role in the attainment of sustainable development.

Recognizing the central role of cities in the shared vision to 2030, a standalone goal on cities and human settlements was adopted (SDG 11), with specific targets around the most critical urban and development issues: housing, public transport, spatial and demographic urbanization, participation in decision making, culture, disasters, waste management and air quality, open and green spaces and urban policies and linkages of settlements. Beyond SDG 11, there are many other targets and indicators in other goals that are urban in nature (SDG 1 Target 1.4, SDG 6 Target 6.3), with about one third of all SDGs indicators identified as being measurable at the local city level.

SDG 11 is equally directly connected to other global agendas such as the New Urban Agenda (NUA), the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, as well as other regional development priorities and visions, all of which aim to achieve a sustainable and more harmonious world where no one and no place is left behind. UN-Habitat is the UN focal point for sustainable urbanization and human settlements, with overall custodianship for 9 of the 15 indicators under SDG 11. The agency also supports the monitoring and reporting of 4 indicators in other goals. UN-Habitat is also responsible for the monitoring of the NUA, which focuses on interventions required to ensure that cities and human settlements are planned, developed and managed in sustainable ways in supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Key Documents

Sustainable Development Goals_Summary version

Status of Human Settlement Statistics

City Defination: What is a City
City Definition_What is a City

Background Document on Degree of Urbanization

The urban SDG Monitoring Series_Newsletters
The urban SDG Monitoring Series: Monitoring SDG Indicator 11.1.1

Urban Data Digest: The Global Housing Affordability Challenge

SDG 11+ Metadata
Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.1.1

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.2.1

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.3.1

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.3.2

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.4.1

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.5.1

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.5.2

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.6.1

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.6.2

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.7.1

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.7.2

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.a.1

Metadata on SDG Indicator 11.b.1

Metadata on SDG Indicator 1.4.1

Metadata on SDG Indicator 1.4.2

Metadata on SDG Indicator 6.3.1

SDG 11+ Training Modules
Indicator 11.1.1 Training Module_Adequate Housing and Slum Upgrading

Indicator 11.2.1 Training Module_Public Transport System

Indicator 11.3.2 Training Module: Civic Participation

Indicator 11.7.1 Training Module_Public Space

Indicator 11.a.1 Training Module_National Urban Policy

Indicator 1.4.2 Training Module_Secure Tenure Rights to Land

Indicator 6.3.1 Training Module_Safe Wastewater treatment

Reports: 1. Assessing progress towards Urban Prosperity - CPI Reports
Gaborone, Botswana

Francistown, Botswana

Medellin, Colombia

Bucaramanga, Colombia

Monastir, Tunisia

Tozeur, Tunisia

Reports: 2. State of Urban Development in Al-Qassim
State of Urban Development in Al-Qassim

Reports: 3. Vulnerability Mapping in Informal Settlements
Kibera settlement, Nairobi, Kenya

Mathare settlement, Nairobi, Kenya

Kawangware settlement, Nairobi, Kenya

Kisumu settlements, Kenya

Kilifi settlements, Kenya

Nakuru settlements, Kenya

Juba settlements, South Sudan

SDG Reporting Templates
Data Template-SDG Indicator 1.4.1

Data Template-SDG Indicator 1.4.2

Data Template-SDG Indicator 11.1.1

Data Template-SDG Indicator 11.2.1

Data Template-SDG Indicator 11.3.1

Data Template-SDG Indicator 11.3.2

Data Template-SDG Indicator 11.6.1

Data Template-SDG Indicator 11.7.1