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Eleven Resources for Teaching UN Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

By Craig Perrier — February 28, 2018 4 min read
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Editor’s Note: Teachers around the world are tackling the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their classrooms. In this post, Craig Perrier, High School Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Social Studies, Fairfax County Public Schools, shares ideas on how to address Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Join Craig for #Globaledchat on Twitter this Thursday, March 1 at 8pm Eastern time, to more deeply discuss how to teach SDG 11.

I clearly remember when I first heard the news that the majority of the world’s population now lives in urban areas for the first time in human history. It was 2007, and I was teaching high school in Massachusetts. To a world history teacher, this was a significant turning point. Minus some major catastrophe, this trend seems irreversible. Using a collage of urban images from both reality and science fiction films (such as Blade Runner, Brazil, and Star Wars), I shared the news and used it as an opportunity for students to explore their world, both locally and beyond.

Let’s fast forward to 2015 and the release of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The percentage of the global urban population had grown to 54 percent with the world total hitting the 7.3 billion mark. The ongoing growth of humanity in total and in urban settings brings significant challenges and possibilities for us to tackle. For example, Goal 11 notes: “Common urban challenges include congestion, lack of funds to provide basic services, a shortage of adequate housing and declining infrastructure. The challenges cities face can be overcome in ways that allow them to continue to thrive and grow, while improving resource use and reducing pollution and poverty. The future we want includes cities of opportunities for all, with access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and more.”

The opportunities for students to engage with course content around this goal and within their community are numerous. To take this a bit further, teachers can utilize Goal 11 as a way to support student-centered instructional models like project-based, problem-based, service, and work-based learning. Topics for these classroom experiences are numerous and interdisciplinary. A sample of these topics come directly from the 2017 UN Progress Report:


  • Growing numbers of slum dwellers
  • Increased air pollution
  • Inadequate basic services and infrastructure
  • Unplanned urban sprawl
  • Urban vulnerability to disasters

These areas of need can also serve as an inroad to exploring your own community and school. For example, grade-level challenges to “improve our community” can yield authentic discussions and meaningful work concerning the space, systems, and culture of your school. But to do so, teachers and students need dynamic resources to support their teaching and learning. Below you will find a selection of 11 resources available to use in your class.

Eleven Resources to Teach UN Sustainable Development Goal 11


  1. The World Bank offers this great tool to explore data on urbanization.
  2. The Goal 11 Webpage and the “Why this goal matters” resource are rich assets to introduce this goal to your students and colleagues.

  3. Educating for Sustainability, from the Sustainable Schools Project, is learning that links knowledge, inquiry, and action to help students build a healthy future for their communities and the planet.

  4. The SDG in Action App: Learn about the 17 SDGs, get news on your favorite goals, find out what you can do to achieve them, create your own events, and invite others to join you in sustainable actions.

  5. Facing the Future: A program of Western Washington University that creates tools for educators that equip and motivate students to develop critical thinking skills, build global awareness, and engage in positive solutions for a sustainable future.

  6. Cities: An interactive data visualization tool: The tool covers all cities with 500,000-plus inhabitants—illustrates the scale and speed of urban transformation that research by the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) has sought to document and describe.

  7. The Sustainable Living Podcast: Ever wonder what life will look like once humans get their act together? What would it be like to live in a world where we no longer create endless trash; are no longer bathed in toxic chemicals, etc.?

  8. Connectable: A list of 55 ways you can take sustainable action.

  9. ElectroCity: A free online computer simulation game that lets players manage their own virtual towns and cities. It’s great fun to play and also teaches players all about energy, sustainability, and environmental management.

  10. Arcadis Sustainable City Index: The Sustainable Cities Index explores the three demands of people, planet, and profit to develop an indicative ranking of 100 of the world’s leading cities.

  11. The Population Reference Bureau has an array of tools, data, lesson plans, and media.

As you explore these items, think about who in your school and community you could approach to help you take the lead with your colleagues and students. And remember, the UN SDGs aren’t “over there” in another part of the world. Improving your own community is an intentional and explicit effort to address goal 11 and achieve its goals. Sharing this information with students broadens their world view and prepares them for an increasingly complex, diverse, and globalized future.

Connect with Craig and Heather on Twitter.

Quote image created on Pablo.

UN SDG #11 image used with permission of the UN Department of Public Information.

World Bank data used with permission of World Bank Group.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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