Complexities of creating order and security for the poorest in cities

20 October 2015

In the sixth instalment of the Cities, Violence and Order blog series, Jaideep Gupte explores what the complexities of creating order and security are for the poorest in cities.

Violence and order in cities are the outcomes of a complex set of interactions. Most often, the magnitude of complexity is far greater for the poorest sections of the city, where institutions and therefore governance is weak(er). This breeds a multiplicity of actors and governance arrangements, involving both state and non-state entities.

Although the broken windows theory (that urban ‘disorder’ and vandalism have a norm-setting and signalling effect on additional crime and anti-social behaviour) is more than three decades old, it continues to be extremely influential in determining how cities are policed the world over. Under this thinking, monitoring and preventing small crimes such as broken windows helps to create an atmosphere of ‘order and lawfulness’, and as a result, prevents more serious crimes.

However, as cities grow, in ever more complex ways, day-to-day security provision is turning out to be something very different from a linear function of aggressive and state-centric policing. With one third of the entire urban population in developing countries currently living in informal settlements, the question of what order and security mean for the poorest, and how these positive outcomes can be created, is hardly a peripheral concern.

A group of urbanists met at the Institute of Development Studies to consider what the challenges of security provision in cities might look like in 2040; and how development policy and practice might pre-emptively respond to these challenges today. In her video submission to the group, Sheela Patel (Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers) tackles this question head-on. She describes a model of citizen-driven policing that has produced sustained results in reducing crime for over a decade in the city of Mumbai.

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