The city as actor in UN frameworks: formalizing ‘urban agency’ in the international system?

Michele Acuto, Anna Kosovac*, Daniel Pejic, Terry Louise Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Cities have been recognized as important players in some of today’s most visible global agendas, from the Paris Agreement on climate to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. This is a formalization of the global role of cities, on which we have little systematic evidence. The formal role of cities remains murky at best, when not unspecified or lumped into civil society. The review presented here, the first of its kind in both international and urban studies, explores the ways in which the United Nations has formally recognized cities in its key documentation, as represented by 32 key frameworks, treaties and statements underpinning the current Agenda 2030. It differentiates across three ‘functions’ ascribed to cities: as issues, as places and as actors. The results of this study highlight the pervasiveness of cities being referred to as actors in official United Nations documentation, over and above other functions. Further unpacking the idea of city agency and implications for cities, we demonstrate that talk of the meteoric ‘rise’ of cities might need to be undertaken more carefully with the better understanding of historical trends.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-536
Number of pages18
JournalTerritory, Politics, Governance
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Regional Studies Association.


  • actor
  • cities
  • global governance
  • international personality
  • United Nations


Dive into the research topics of 'The city as actor in UN frameworks: formalizing ‘urban agency’ in the international system?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this