Urban sustainability has been used to cover multiple aspects of urban development. Terms related to sustainability have been generously used to advance ubiquitous and hard-to-measure targets not least in response to global and national sustainable development (SD) targets. However, ad-hoc and governed urbanization processes differ. In addition to different development pathways, local differences in interpretation of sustainability exist. This renders a global urban sustainability discourse disconnected from local practice. In this paper we focus on the Nordic cities, combining what is known about the similarities of the cities and societies, their recent development and highlights. Comparing with the global sustainability discourse spearheaded by the UN development goals (SDGs) we analyze the potential links in Nordic urban development to the global aims, as well as the local action taken via ex-ante review and assessment. With increasing demands for transformative change in urban planning and other institutions due to environmental, social and economic challenges, we demonstrate where strengthening the urban sustainability agenda is particularly needed. Findings show surprisingly little focus on socially just and cross-thematic development pre-SDGs, while it is expected that the dominant technocratic focus will give way to these other aspects necessary to address sustainability under the current SDG framework.
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