Governance and politics

Trapped in the city: communities, insecurity and urban life in fragile states

Secretariat of the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law

In less than 40 years, a third of the global population will live in cities and 90 percent of urban growth will be concentrated in the Global South. This rapid and seemingly unavoidable transformation could in principle make a great contribution to economic and human development. But it is also likely to pose serious threats for human security, especially in countries ruled by weak governance structures or affected by conflict.

In November 2014, the Secretariat of the  Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law hosted the expert event Big Cities: Sources of and Solutions to New Insecurities at The Hague Institute for Global Justice. A number of sessions brought together experts from different countries in the Global South. The discussion also sought to assess the value and impact of possible responses. Discussions benefited from the presentation of case studies from cities located in diverse geographical and cultural contexts, including Caracas, Karachi, Lagos, Nairobi and San Salvador. 

A vital lesson is that understanding the real nature of urban insecurity requires stepping beyond the traditional analytical framework based on concepts such as legal and illegal, formal or informal, legitimate or illegitimate, and instead digging into the nuances and social adaptations undertaken in contexts of urban survival. In many urban contexts, the concept of crime is vague and difficult to define, since public institutions can be the main perpetrators of violence and gangs are relied upon to provide stability and security. The same ambiguity characterizes the most recent innovations to social problems that rapid urbanization has generated: while traditional governance approaches are often inadequate, high-tech solutions for urban dilemmas – often dependent on private sector involvement – pose new ethical and social challenges, and demand careful consideration of possible risks for the public interest.


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