The speed and scale of global urbanization are staggering. More than half of the world’s population – around 3.4 billion people – now lives in cities. In 1950, 80 urban centres had populations exceeding 1 million; today there are 480 such centres that grow weekly by a million infants and migrants.
The Safe and Inclusive Cities (SAIC) initiative is a global research program that has aimed to document the links between urban violence, poverty, and inequality. Responding to the original question of what are the main drivers of urban violence, this research program has yielded hard evidence on a number of key drivers of violence in cities, and key knowledge gaps in the links between urban violence, inequalities, and poverty.
Poor governance and social exclusion, a lack of economic opportunities, restrictive gender roles, and lack of access to basic services for certain groups are among the main factors driving violence in many of the Global South’s urban centres.
What is Safe and Inclusive Cities?
Jointly funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), SAIC worked with experts from around the world to identify what works – and what doesn’t – to reduce violence in urban centres.
Exploring the links between urbanization, poverty, and violence
The relationship between urbanization and extreme forms of poverty and violence is startling: one-third of urban dwellers live below the poverty line. People in cities tend to kill and be killed at higher rates than national averages. Almost all population growth in the coming decades will take place in low- and middle-income countries and be concentrated in slums or informal settlements.
Many security analysts believe that future conflicts will be fought in cities that are unable to absorb fast-rising populations. Criminal and organized violence, associated with the drug trade in some countries, has become entwined with national politics.
An IDRC-commissioned background study showed that much is known about the direct impacts (murder, assaults, robberies) of urban violence on the poor. However, we are also starting to understand the indirect impacts and costs of violence, such as population displacement, the disruption of social services, reduced economic growth, brain drain, and higher spending on law enforcement. Gendered patterns of insecurity are also gaining attention: in urban settings, men are more likely to suffer physical assault and violent robbery while women endure higher rates of sexual and domestic violence. What we do not know, however, are the correlations between violence, poverty, and inequality. Many cities experience chronic violence, but not all cities are equally violent. As living conditions deteriorate, the potential for conflict, crime, or violence is likely to escalate: solid research is needed to explain these realities. Crucially, more research is needed to determine how best to address the intersecting challenges of urban violence, poverty, and inequality.
Under SAIC, 15 research teams in 40 cities across Latin America, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa have been examining the social consequences and challenges of urbanization, and what works to create safer, more inclusive urban spaces.
The teams have produced data that has been rigorously tested to provide concrete results on the effectiveness of urban violence reduction theories, strategies, and interventions, such as pacification and community policing, community interventions, and slum upgrading.
Making a difference
Global research results from this initiative are providing evidence of strategies that policymakers and practitioners can use to address rising youth exclusion and violence, promote social cohesion, fight gender-based violence, encourage socially-conscious urban planning, renewal and regeneration, and enhance the protection of the most vulnerable groups.
Read more at www.idrc.ca/cities