This theme focuses on the way in which city municipalities prevent and mitigate violent conflict and other forms of crises in the global North and South. To this end, it will test the core assumption that devolved or decentralized power produces a more effective response to preventing the outbreak and escalation of violent conflict.

With half of the global population living in urban areas, towns and cities, urbanization can be an important positive force for development but it can also exacerbate poverty, inequality, social exclusion and weak governance in developing and developed states. It is argued that urban contexts, and in particular cities, will be the main context of future violent conflict (Kilcullen, 2013).

According to the UN, 54.3% of the world’s population now live in urban centers.

With global trends in devolution and decentralization, city municipalities play a pivotal role as the ‘clearing house’ for conflict management and resolution, and may be better positioned – compared to national governments – to address transnational challenges. Specific and often contested issues include: planning, housing, policing, migration, employment, access to public services, and access to public space and resources.

From a research perspective, cities can be regarded as ‘microcosms of broader societal fault lines and tensions affecting a nation’ and, as such, they can be used as ‘laboratories’ for innovative peace-building practices (Barber, 2013).

In order to explore how and when municipal actors can actually maximize their effectiveness in preventing violence, projects related to this theme will test the core assumption that devolved or decentralized power produces a more effective response to preventing the outbreak and escalation of violent conflict. Key questions include:

  • What are the drivers of violent conflict at the city municipality level? Where relevant, how do these causes relate to national and international conflict?
  • Which (formal and informal) institutions and actors help prevent and mitigate conflict? What role do city municipalities play?
  • How can effective prevention strategies be designed and what role should municipalities – and mayors in particular – play?

Outputs will include an initial concept paper, 4-5 case study reports, 5-6 thematic policy briefs on the main issues related to urban conflict, 2-3 journal articles, and an edited book. Towards impacting at the levels of policy and practice, we will engage with key stakeholders at the international, national and municipal levels throughout the cycle of the project and form a peer-learning network among municipalities to exchange best practices and share knowledge.

The Hague Institute seeks to design and deliver this timely project theme in partnership with international research organizations and in close cooperation with municipal authorities, cities associations and international agencies. The studies will develop, test and disseminate policy frameworks and guidelines that will enable municipalities to address more effectively the root causes of violent conflict and allow municipal, national and international actors to better understand how to respond to localized conflict in a coordinated way and to avoid its escalation.