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Hub Coordinator: Michele Acuto

Host University: University College London

What: Urbanization, particularly in the developing world, has been accompanied by increased levels of crime, violence, societal conflict and lawlessness. The growing crime  and feeling of insecurity that city dwellers are facing daily is one of the major challenges around the world. In some countries, crime has been exacerbated by the proliferation of weapons, substance abuse and youth unemployment. Global studies show that 60% of all urban residents in developing countries have been victims of crime, at least once over the past five years, 70% of them in Latin America and Africa. Without a deliberate effort to address this situation, the prospects of future development and poverty reduction are limited.

This thematic hub on ‘Safer Cities’ provides a platform for exchange and cross-institutional integration for academics engaging with the challenge of urban safety and security. The hub is seeking to advance knowledge aimed to improve policies and responses to the issues of crime, violence, societal conflict but also feelings of insecurity, advancing the work of cities and partners within the framework of the UN Global Network on Safer Cities (GNSC). The Hub seeks an interdisciplinary perspective that views physical, social, cultural, economic, environmental, governance and policy issues as interdependent. It encourages research that is policy-relevant and applied, but also balanced between Global North and South. The Hub supports the development of research and education that facilitates a better understanding of existing urban safety and security problems whilst also studying future urbanization trends and allowing anticipative approaches and sustainable strategies.

Why: The goal of the hub is to enable academics to make a useful contribution to practices and policies that improve the lives of those living in urban areas. Crime has impacts on everyday life of city residents. Women and children are often the most affected, especially when fear hinders their access to services. The impacts of crime and insecurity restrict urban social and economic development, and often jeopardize opportunities and pro-poor policies. This hub will investigate and propose appropriate processes of engagement for academics and professionals to improve safety in cities and anticipate crime. It will also seek to build a confluence of knowledge and practice between the mainstay focus on prevention of urban crime, urban crime trends and responses with inter-related and often overlapping areas of safety including the prevention of urban violence, urban conflict and peace-building. As well, with other multi-dimensional aspects of safety in particular insecurity of tenure and natural disasters and climate change – both in terms of risks and opportunities (coping and adaptation measures) This production of knowledge and empirical evidences will improve research and education methodologies whilst providing a window for academics to work with and contribute to the improvement of UN-Habitat’s Safer Cities Programme as well as partner UN agencies that have embraced a Safer Cities component in their work with local governments. This will help to mainstream the results of academic production and ideas into the global debate led by the United Nations to improve the lives of urban dwellers as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals and the coming post-2015 global development agenda.

Who: The hub embraces an inclusive, inter-disciplinary and inter-regional approach to the investigation of urban safety. Many academics and institutions across the globe are working on issues related to urban safety, each working from a variety of perspectives and much can be gained by sharing innovative practices. The Safer Cities Programme at UN Habitat has been organizing and promoting regional and international debates on urban crime prevention within its international network of partners. This has resulted in the creation of a Global Network on Safer Cities (GNSC). The Global Network on Safer Cities finds its relevance from the necessity to put together and systematize different experiences and perspectives existing around the world on urban crime in order to analyse the challenges that cities are facing, especially in regions of the south, and to develop more cost effective prevention and urban safety policies. It is a one stop shop for knowledge sharing and exchange while simultaneously fostering debates amongst government agents, experts, politicians, international agencies, activists, civil societies, academicians, institutions and citizens. The role of the Global network will be to structure dialogue, enhance learning, derive innovations from the 18 years of practice of the Safer Cities Programme, facilitate solutions and advocate for urban safety and local crime prevention all over the world. The Global Network is a reference for local, national and regional authorities to address the current and future challenges cities are facing. The Global Network intends to go to scale targeting multiple countries and selected cities and resorting to an inclusive coalition of stakeholders enhancing urban safety. This will contribute to:

  • Exchange of know-how and experiences on urban crime prevention among cities and citizens;
  • Transform societies to be more inclusive and participatory, and, by extension, to further social cohesion;
  • Spreading a culture of crime prevention and the co-production of safety and security.

How: The hub will serve as a platform for academic exchange and collaboration on topics related to safer cities visualized in spaces defined as city laboratories, supported by centres of excellence and forums of exchange at global, regional, national and local levels.  It is important that the hub grows organically over time in response to the discussions generated by exchange between members.  Academic exchanges will facilitate member exchange and discussion through annual conferences whilst members will use coordinated research initiatives to further investigate questions identified by member institutions and UN-Habitat. Academic and professional collaboration will progress to collaboration between academic institutions and UN-Habitat or other partner institutions on relevant projects. The hub will therefore not only be a ‘producer’ of relevant knowledge and evidence base, but also a thrust behind designing collaboratively successful (or at least pilot) interventions aimed at improving capacity building and prevention mechanisms for urban safety in cities the world over. The hub and GNSC will collaborate to promote this implementation agenda in the lead up, and following, Habitat III to make sure the academic exchange of the hub remains solidly rooted in policy-relevant action and real improvements on the ground.