What is UrbanLex?

UrbanLex is a free global database that aims to improve access to the legislation that regulates the urban environment. The database features seven critical areas of urban law that are essential to the sustainability and development of the legal framework in urban areas. 

Compiling the laws is important but it is only the first step. In order to make UrbanLex more useful and advanced than a simple data repository, the database incorporates research tools. 

The laws can be searched using various indicators including theme, region, country or keywords. The laws are primarily available in their original language and accompanied by a digest in English. The digest is an important added value, as it increases the accessibility of instruments and describes the core functions and mechanisms of relevance to urban law. 

The Challenge

Many of the problems associated with urbanization stem from, or are exacerbated by not having adequate legislation to provide a framework for growth. Urban law, in common with other fields of law, is challenged by a lack of understanding beyond a small specialist community of how instruments and institutions relate to each other and translate into impact on the ground. This lessens the transparency of legal systems, often with negative impacts on fundamental human rights, equity and accountability. UrbanLex provides simple access to legal instruments and highlights the connections among related instruments. Moreover, it acts as a catalyst for further research and discussion which will lead to much needed innovation and an emphasis on impact-oriented solutions.

“This training has provided knowledge in all fields of law, and has assisted in identifying the reasons why the system is malfunctioning in my country. It has made me a better legal advisor.”

Related Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 1 logo
SDG 5 logo
SDG 10 logo
SDG 11 logo
SDG 16 logo
SDG 17 logo

Leaving no one and no place behind

Hover over or click the icons to learn about UN-Habitat's work on social inclusion here.

UrbanLex seeks to empower government officials, urban stakeholders and citizens by giving them access to legislative materials. Effective urban legislation will be fundamental in achieving the Post-2015 Goal of sustainable cities and human settlements by establishing national and local benchmarks and accountability for targets. This can only be achieved through a human rights-based approach. The human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination, inclusion and participation, accountability and the rule of law are key elements for successful UrbanLex implementation. UN-Habitat believes in ‘rights based’ legislation as it will help promote participation as well as the integration of urban dwellers in the development decisions and planning outcomes that affect their daily lives. Concurrently, this will have a profound outcome in the realization of other human rights standards in cities around the world, e.g.


  • Adequate housing;
  • Access to water and sanitation, health and education services;
  • Broad based participation in decisions that affect city inhabitants, and;
  • Any other rights codified in international human rights instruments
Human rights icon

To be successful, UrbanLex needs to be inclusive to vulnerable groups, such as women and different age groups. Participation of women and other groups in effective knowledge sharing is a key criterion of success for sustainable planning. Several activities in this project will specifically work towards empowering women and community members to participate and understand UrbanLex as a tool for comparative analysis and research. Within the key target groups of the project, urban planners and leaders at municipal level, the role of women also needs to be enhanced and equal opportunities provided for professional development. The training activities and other capacity development opportunities offered by the project will be designed with this in mind and participation of women encouraged.


The programme aims at getting gender disaggregated data for the user statistics of Urbanlex. Gender disaggregated data will also be incorporated to reflect roles, real situations, general conditions of women and men, girls and boys in understanding and participating in UrbanLex as a tool for comparative analysis and research as much as possible to ensure inequalities and exclusions are eradicated.

Gender icon

Youth, children and older persons, especially those in situations of particular risk of marginalization, such as girl child and female-headed households, are often excluded from access to housing, urban basic services, public spaces and infrastructure, and the overall benefits of urbanization. Young women and men have been a key focus of UN-Habitat’s work. The agency has successfully advocated for the role of youth as leaders in sustainable urban development, recognizing the guiding principle of the SDGs of “leaving no one behind,” and the New Urban Agenda vision of cities for all. 

Children icon

Sustainable urban development can only be achieved if persons with disabilities are included meaningfully in decision-making and are able to access their rights. UN-Habitat partners with representative groups and individual rights holders, as well as national and local governments, relevant UN bodies and civil society to maximize impact and to meaningfully ensure that the rights including accessibility and universal design of persons with disabilities are promoted, respected and protected. 

Disability icon

Donors and partners

UN-Habitat has established partnerships with academic institutions, networks and organizations from all regions to collaborate and enhance Urbanlex as well as knowledge sharing and development.  The Partners have assisted in the collection and uploading of the laws on the database, as well as participated in different foras, to exchange their best practices, expertise and innovation in the field of urban legislation and development. A variety of partners have co-organised  ‘Urban Law Day’ seminars with UN-Habitat that explore urban law issues and themes according to local priorities or based on global processes. A specialized training seminar titled ‘Building drafting skills for improving the quality of urban legislation” has also been developed together with the Sir William Dale Centre for Legislative Studies to familiarize urban policy makers with the dividing lines between policy and legislation, help them understand the criteria of quality in legislation and familiarize them with existing methods and tools for evidence based law making and basic drafting principles. This collaboration has brought greater sustainability, comprehensive outreach and continuity to the actions of the UrbanLex programme