Cities, Violence and Order

Cities have long been recognised as not only the firm centres of government in the global north and south, but also central to the processes of state consolidation, transformation and erosion (as seen in the work of Charles Tilly in the 1980s and 1990s).

In characterising the centrality of cities in such processes, the implicit assumption has been that the state is the sole and undisputed provider of security in urban centres. However, a growing body of evidence showcasing the non-uniformity of security processes and outcomes, both within and between large cities, challenges this assumption. As such, it is increasingly being recognised that we know relatively little about how the social, political, economic and physical aspects of urban form, and their interactions, affect and shape the mechanics of security provision.

In particular, there has been little nuanced thinking, beyond simplistic "dooms day scenarios" or utopian projections, around what order, governance and control in cities of the developing world will look like in the future (ranging from ‘a planet of slums’ to ‘charter cities’). Pertinent questions around how security in cities will be understood, how and for whom it will be provided, and how it will be governed, remain largely unanswered. This has left a perceptible gap in development policy, compromising the manner in which we respond to urban challenges today. Part of this gap is due to the separation between development theory or urban planning and issues of security, conflict and violence. These have usually been different intellectual and programmatic domains, to the detriment of a coherent approach to either analysis of insecurity or effective approaches to security provision.

We will consider three overlapping dimensions of the city – ‘grid’ (the spatial design, layout and planning of the urban tissue), ‘governance’ (the processes and structures that form the institutions through which people are excluded and included), and ‘ephemerality’ (the shifting identities and uses of spaces). Used only as starting points, these dimensions will give way to ‘Cityscapes’ based on future drivers of change identified by the workshop participants.

This study brings together a diverse set of urban scholars and stakeholders representing six groups: municipal; city police; citizens’ groups; international donors; private sector and research.

Using Foresight techniques we aim to:

  1. Characterise what the challenges of security provision in cities might look like in 2040;
  2. Formulate ideas on how development policy and practice can pre-emptively respond today;
  3. Create a potential roadmap for the types of programmes that can be given greater priority and support.

Key contact

Photo of Jaideep Gupte, IDS Research Fellow

T: +44 (0)1273 915656


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