New York City, United States

2018-12-10 00:00:00

Global Vision I Urban Action: New York City’s Voluntary Local Review (VLR) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)



  • Population size: 8,620,000

  • Population growth rate (%): 0.70

  • Surface area ( 789.00

  • Population density (people/ 27,000.00

  • GDP per capita (USD): 64,579.00

  • Main source of prosperity: NYC has long been at the center of finance, food, fashion, and media, and in recent years, the City has also become a global hub for life sciences, urban manufacturing, and tech.



In July 2018, NYC became the first city in the world to report directly to the UN on local progress in achieving the SDGs by developing a VLR The NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs (IA) modeled the VLR on the Voluntary National Review (VNR), which countries may submit to share SDG progress.   

The VLR is an initiative of GVUA. Since December 2015, IA has used the SDGs as a common language to share sustainability innovations and challenges with cities and countries worldwide. We identified the connections between the SDGs and OneNYC, our city’s sustainable development strategy. This mapping became the basis of our work to connect NYC’s diplomatic corps with communities across the five boroughs to share best practices related to NYC’s implementation of policies.  Conversely, IA has also ensured that NYC’s experience and the voice of New Yorkers are included in UN policy debates. We are now working with other cities to develop similar programs.



In April 2015, NYC committed to the principles of growth, equity, sustainability, and resiliency through its groundbreaking OneNYC strategy, a model for sustainable development at the local level. OneNYC includes commitments, milestones, and metrics; our administration publishes an annual progress report. 

When global leaders committed to the SDGs in September 2015, IA recognized the overlap with our local strategy, and established the GVUA program to use the SDGs as a framework to share best practices with partners in NYC and worldwide.



Though the SDGs were agreed at the national level, cities are at the frontline of implementation. Residents feel and see the challenges addressed by SDGs daily, in their streets and communities. 

In April 2015, NYC committed to the principles of growth, equity, sustainability, and resiliency through its groundbreaking OneNYC strategy which is a model for sustainable development at the local level. The consultative process to develop OneNYC, which began in late 2014, involved 71 New York City agencies, and included New York residents and businesses as well as an advisory board comprised of civic leaders, policy specialists, and community leaders. Progress reports are published annually and the strategy is updated every four years. 

Since December 2015, IA has demonstrated the links between OneNYC and the SDGs. Three years after OneNYC was launched, Mayor de Blasio announced record progress in creating the fairest big city in America, and we recognized that this was an opportunity to share activities our administration has undertaken to ensure progress towards the SDGs.

Half of the world’s population currently lives in cities; this percentage is expected to reach two-thirds by the year 2050. Cities are the frontline for challenges such as climate and inequality; cities are also hubs for innovative solutions developed through cross-sector partnerships. 

The VLR and related activities provide a practical tool for NYC to engage partners (cities, countries, and the UN) in meeting current challenges while increasing resiliency to meet those of the future. Our work is essential in sharing ways other cities and countries can promote equity, inclusion, and sustainability for the benefit of their citizens and eventually, people everywhere.

The VLR was conceived, executed, and written by the NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs in partnership with the Offices of Operations, and Climate Policy and Programs, and in consultation with other relevant NYC agencies. It was further shaped in consultation with SDG stakeholders including UN agencies, UN member states that have submitted VNRs, and city network representatives. Government and civil society experts involved in the development, implementation, and monitoring of the SDGs were also consulted.

IA did not use additional funds to implement GVUA or to develop the VLR. We built activities that complement the work already outlined by OneNYC. Our office has one Strategic Relationships Manager who is also responsible for the GVUA program.  NYC agency staff time is occasionally needed to conduct site visits, with the understanding that all participants benefit from these activities by discussing shared challenges and solutions.



This initiative is revolutionary because cities have never intimately engaged with the UN on the SDGs. In addition to submitting the VLR to the UN, the IA Commissioner presented the findings during the formal plenary of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) at the session focused on the implementation of SDG 11. We organized site visits and other activities to complement the VLR in the lead-up to the HLPF, connecting our NYC colleagues with the international community to discuss in practical terms shared challenges and solutions using the SDG framework.

Some cities do report on their local implementation of the SDGs as part of a national framework. However, the United States has thus far not expressed intent to submit a VNR, so NYC decided to submit a report directly to the UN to ensure we can join global discussions about issues that affect New Yorkers.

This innovation is cross-cutting as it is relevant to policy at the local and global level.  We can use it as a tool to engage with other cities and stakeholders on practical issues, and in policy arenas to demonstrate the critical role that cities place in achieving the SDGs. 

Since SDG commitments are made at the national level, not a city level, reporting on progress could potentially be seen as an unnecessary burden for NYC agencies who are tasked with providing services to New Yorkers, rather than engaging in global affairs. We avoid this by tapping into existing NYC efforts and demonstrating to NYC agencies the opportunity they have to share best practices while learning new techniques to improve their service delivery. Agencies are now approaching us to identify ways they can cooperate more systematically.



NYC’s VLR is a benchmark for New York’s progress on the SDGs. It also provides an example of local initiatives being shared globally. We welcome engagement with cities and other SDGs stakeholders to strengthen these reporting mechanisms. By using the common language of the SDGs to discuss our shared successes and challenges, we hope people and governments around the world will work together to achieve all 17 SDGs by 2030.

We use qualitative metrics to measure our progress, assessing our success in engaging with other cities and stakeholders on linking local strategies to the SDGs.    

Examples include:

  • The Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments committed to promoting VLRs.

  • NYC is helping individual cities in the U.S., and worldwide to develop their versions VLRs.

  • The UN Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General, the UN Development Programme Administrator, the UN Habitat Executive Director, and numerous other high-level UN representatives have lauded the VLR 

  • NYC civil society groups invited IA to present our work and have requested closer cooperation. 

  • NYC agencies have requested more systematic engagement using the SDG framework. 

  • Advocacy groups like the UN Foundation have identified the VLR as a trend to watch.

The VLR is a new tool that was developed by IA, modelled after VNRs but adapted to reflect the experience of cities. It is a presentation of existing NYC information in a format that is accessible to the UN community as well as other SDG stakeholders, in line with UN documents recognizing the key role of local governments in the implementation of the SDGs. NYC already tracks more than 1,000 indicators through a monitoring system that the NYC Mayor’s Office of Operations has developed since the 1970s, and examples of the data that NYC collects.

OneNYC is already recognized as groundbreaking. The VLR demonstrates our continued commitment to a just future for all New Yorkers, and to ensure the achievement of the SDGs globally. 

By sharing the review on local work toward the SDGs, IA also continues its advocacy for city perspectives at the UN. This includes our recent efforts to influence the recent global agreement on migration.



Recognizing that cities around the world are also responding to the challenges laid out in the SDGs, NYC welcomes collaboration with those who are interested in mapping their local actions and reporting on them at the global level. The VLR will be most effective if other cities and subnational governments undertake similar reviews, and we are seeking opportunities to discuss the content, format, and process of our VLR and hear from others about enhancing overall SDG monitoring and reporting. 

While submitting reviews like the VLR happens once a year, implementation of the SDGs takes place every day. We hope that the VLR can serve as a catalyst to identify additional possibilities for engagement with cities and other stakeholders, and as a way to exchange best practices and to build momentum towards achieving all 17 SDGs by 2030.



  • Goal 1: End poverty in all of its forms

  • Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

  • Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages

  • Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all

  • Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

  • Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

  • Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

  • Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

  • Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

  • Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

  • Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

  • Target 1: Access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums

  • Target 2: Access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all

  • Target 3: Participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management

  • Target 4: Safeguard cultural and natural heritage

  • Target 5: Reduce deaths and number of people affected by disasters with particular focus on the poor and people in vulnerable situations

  • Target 6: Improve air quality and manage municipal and other wastes

  • Target 7: Universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible green and public spaces, in particular of women, children older persons and persons with disabilities

  • Target 8: Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas

  • Target 9: Improving resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters and implement holistic disaster risk management

  • Target 10: Support least developed countries in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials

  • Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

  • Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts 

  • Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

  • Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

  • Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions for all

  • Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development