Trapped in the City: Communities, Insecurity and Urban Life in Fragile States

Hague Institute Researcher Agnese Macaluso and Clingendael’s Senior Research Fellow Ivan Briscoe coauthored a policy brief on the challenges that fast-growing cities in fragile and developing states need to face in tackling insecurity and violence. The brief builds on the expert event Big Cities: Sources of and Solutions to New Insecurities hosted by the Secretariat of the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law in November 2014 at The Hague Institute for Global Justice.

The meeting was intended to provide an opportunity for knowledge sharing and policy thinking on the impact of cities in fragile and conflict-affected environments, as well as to discuss possible donor responses to problems associated with urban development.

A number of sessions brought together experts from different countries in the Global South, in order to discuss violence and insecurity in their urban dimension on the basis of concrete experiences. Furthermore, 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 – different in many ways, yet sharing similar social traumas and security concerns.

A vital lesson that emerged from the discussion and participants’ experiences 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.

This brief builds on the insights from the seminar, and points to some of the more critical and controversial aspects of urban insecurity, above all in fragile and conflict-affected states. It explores relationship between violence, power and society in urban contexts, and aims to provide policy-relevant insights for the design of new approaches to urban governance.

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