International Development Planning Review

Urban equality and the SDGs: three provocations for a relational agenda

International Development Planning Review (2022), 44, (1), 13–32.


We live in an increasingly urban, increasingly unequal world. This is nowhere more evident than in cities of the global South, where many residents face deep injustices in their ability to access vital services, participate in decision-making or to have their rights recognised as citizens. In this regard, the rallying cry of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ‘leave no one behind’ offers significant potential to guide urbanisation processes towards more equitable outcomes, particularly for the urban poor.

Yet the SDGs have also faced a series of criticisms which have highlighted the gaps and silences in moving towards a transformative agenda. This article explores the potentials of adopting a relational lens to read the SDGs, as a mechanism to navigate these internal contradictions and critiques and build pathways to urban equality. In particular, it offers three questions if we want to place urban equality at the heart of the agenda: who owns the city; who produces knowledge about the city; and who is visible in the city? Drawing from the practices of organised groups of the urban poor, this article outlines the key lessons for orienting this agenda towards the relational and transformative aims of urban equality.

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Author details

Butcher, Stephanie