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Subnational Urban Policies as a tool for Sustainable Urban Development

Ignacio De La Puerta


date June 29, 2022 | 17:30 - 19:00
Multifunction Hall Room 16
Regional Government of Basque Country
Integrated Governance in Spatial Planning for a More Just, Green, and Healthy Urban Future
NE 156


Subnational Urban Policies as a tool for Sustainable Urban Development

The Global Agendas establish general principles to achieve sustainable development, and explicitly recognize the fundamental role of countries, regions and cities to guarantee its implementation. Urban strategies have demonstrated their key role for achieving the implementation of sustainable development on the ground, since they put the particularities, needs, capacities and priorities of each territory, and its inhabitants, at the core of the process of localizing the Sustainable Development Goals through multilevel, multisectoral and multi-stakeholder approaches.

Although 2030 Agenda is global and SDG’s commitments are done at national level, their achievement depends in many ways on local and regional action. Therefore, achieving these goals imply localization efforts, the support of local and subnational governments, associations and networks, as well as a supportive national context and a strengthened multilateral system.

The commitment of local and subnational authorities to localise the SDGs in their territory requires a combination of political leadership, sound diagnosis and technical solutions (often provided by close partnerships with other stakeholders, such as Academia, private sector and civil society), through urban policy instruments that guide planning and strategies to achieve sustainable development. In this context, Subnational urban policies become a governance instrument to make the localization of the SDGs viable in cities and regions.

Subnational Urban Policies rightly reflect the local competencies and therefore are instruments which illustrate territorial decentralization, enhancing the comparative advantages of the territory to respond to global competitiveness and allowing it to move forward alongside and in coordination with policies, strategies and actions for sustainable development in the national context.

In recent years, at least 2 trends seem to be emerging: the first is the vindication of the essential role of the Subnational space (regions and states) in the development and implementation of urban policies, and especially in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, particularly in contexts where a large part of the competencies for urban issues are established at that level. The second is the change in approach that is perceived in this type of initiative, where it has gone from a limited sectoral perspective (territorial guidelines, sectoral laws) to more comprehensive and holistic strategies.

In the case of Spain, a country with a high level of administrative decentralization, in recent years there has been strong interest in the development of urban policies and strategies through the "Urban Agendas", which have been developed by the National Government and increasingly by the Subnational Governments. Their initiatives, in their different stages and including the particularities of each territory, provide a valuable example of the potential of Subnational Urban Policies to provide the necessary long-term direction and course of action to support urban development, while providing an overall coordination framework.

The relevance of SNUP for Urban planning and Governance in Spain

The Subnational Urban Agendas in Spain are considered as a clear opportunity to improve multilevel collaboration mechanisms, from the particularity of the competencies and territories on which they intervene. The Agendas are also an opportunity to improve collaboration with city councils, provincial councils and other decision-making bodies in relation to public policies in general, in cities and towns, as well as to promote multi-stakeholder involvement (business, Academia, civil society organisations) and citizen participation in decision-making.

The relevance of the Subnational Urban Agendas has been reinforced in Spain's first progress report on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, which was presented in April 2021. In this report, Urban Agendas from different regions of Spain stand out, together with the Spanish Urban Agenda, as the main means of localizing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and implementing the New Urban Agenda. These developments show clearly that Urban Agendas can be instruments for the better implementation of national policies, but also for the development and implementation of subnational policies.

In 2019, the Regional Government of the Basque Country culminated the process of drawing up the Basque Urban Agenda - Bultzatu 2050, a pioneering collective effort of synthesis that will mark the development of the Basque Country for the next 30 years, by bringing together the master lines to be followed by policies on the environment, sustainable land use, urban habitat, energy, economic activity and employment, mobility and transport, digital transition, quality of life and health, social inclusion and, as a compendium of everything, governance. After its definition and approval, the regional Government of the Basque Country has continued working on an implementation strategy which includes, among other elements, the definition of a governance scheme, the establishment of a robust monitoring framework and the formulation of guidelines for the selection of pilot projects (a process set up and developed in close coordination with multi-stakeholder for a, involving many different departments in the Regional Governments, multi-level Institutions -Provinces, Municipalities- and a variety of stakeholders, from business to non-governmental organisations, Universities and research centres).

In 2018, the Government of Catalonia launched the Urban Assembly of Catalonia, a space for participation and intersectoral dialogue aimed at achieving an Urban Agenda for Catalonia, which is at an advanced stage of development. The Assembly, under the leadership of the Catalan government but composed of various actors, has been meeting periodically to assess progress in the formulation of the Agenda, which is expected to be approved in 2022.

The Government of the Valencian Community also launched in 2019 the initiative to develop its Valencian Urban Agenda, following a broad participatory process that is expected to be completed in 2022. It has developed an Implementation Framework to guarantee the future implementation of actions in the territory and a Policy Coherence Framework to ensure the adequacy of the action lines with the goals of the Agenda, as well as an effort to strengthen local networks already established as coordination spaces.

On the other hand, local governments are increasingly acknowledging the relevance of aligning their local development strategies with Nacional and Subnational Urban Agendas as an accelerator to achieve sustainable urban development. Such is the case of the city of Vitoria (the Capital city of the Basque Region), which is currently leading a participatory process to elaborate their Urban Agenda Vitoria-Gasteiz 2030, which constitute a mechanism to localizing and implementing principles of the Spanish Urban Agenda and the Basque Urban Agenda at the city level.


This side event is conceived as an opportunity to share the experiences of several subnational governments that either have completed their urban agendas or are in one of the different phases of their development (Basque Country and Catalonia) completed with the experience of the national and local governments. The objective is to generate knowledge and synergies by sharing successful experiences and good practices in these Subnational contexts.

The outcome of this event will be the consolidation of a Community of Practice around Subnational Urban Policies mainly in the Spanish context, but that can be translated in other areas of the world. Those lessons learnt from the experiences of one partner around the elaboration and implementation of their Urban Agenda can benefit similar ongoing and future initiatives, and at the same time extract good practices that can feed normative work on Subnational Urban Policies and support the Global community.

A discussion will be generated around issues, among others, such as the following:

- How can the Subnational Urban Agendas help to build a new approach for multilevel, multi-stakeholder cooperation?

- How can Subnational Urban Agendas articulate a new relationship between the urban and the natural and the rural?

- What are the advantages that can be identified from the Subnational Urban Agendas to achieve the objectives set by the Global Agendas?

- What form of governance is conducive to the development of Subnational Urban Agendas and can facilitate their implementation?

Session speakers

Mr. Ignacio de la Puerta
Director of Territorial Planning and Urban Agenda of the Regional Basque Government
Regional Basque Government
Ms. María Galindo
General Director of Digital Nation and Urban Agenda of the Regional Government of Catalonia
Regional Government of Catalonia
Ms Rosa Pardo
General Director of Territorial Policy and Landscape
Government of the Valencian Community
Ms. Ana Oregi
Delegate Councilor of the Department of Territory and Climate Action
Municipality of Vitoria-Gasteiz
Mr Carmen Sánchez-Miranda
Head of UN-Habitat Office in Spain
UN Habitat