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Urban Fragility

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Urban Fragility 

The utilization of an urban lens to offer a more nuanced understanding of the threat of armed violence in cities, and how such violence may be alleviated.

Weber & Wyjad, in CCHS, 2007, pp. 82-83 


State fragility has serious implications for human security, a point driven home by recent events in countries such as Somalia and Sudan. Using an urban lens to examine fragility can perhaps offer the possibility of a more nuanced understanding of the threat of armed violence in cities, and how such violence may be alleviated.

Fragility indicators have been advanced elsewhere in efforts to provide a snapshot of a particular situation, in order to draw comparisons between states and over time. A complementary urban indicator system could potentially do the same for the city level, and expose possible links between city and state fragility. To that end, below are six concepts and 11 indicators proposed to represent urban fragility.

I. Urban public security: Physical security - measured here in two contrasting ways - can be a key indicator of urban fragility.

·         (1) Homicide rates: Pervasive violent crime is a sign of official inability to maintain urban public security.

·         (2) Police per capita: The police force is a key measurable tool that cities can use to ensure peace and order.

II. Responsive urban governance: Urban residents rely on their local governments to provide crucial services. If local governments are not able to peacefully resolve dilemmas, this could give rise to insecurity and fragility.

·         (3) Corruption: Corruption robs cities of the capacity to equitably improve urban living conditions for all citizens, and can increase tensions between those who govern and the governed.

·         (4) Perceived access to decision-making: Public perceptions of access to decision-making can be a more accurate indicator of responsive urban governance than potentially corrupt and illegitimate official institutions and elections.

III. Social capital in cities: The networks of relationships that form between people during day-today interactions in cities facilitate trust and cooperation. Fragile cities are likely to lack a strong social fabric enabled by community participation.

·         (5) Participation in community organizations: Involvement in community organizations that work to benefit society as a whole can build social capital by providing space for positive human interaction; high levels of citizen participation indicate a vibrant city with strong interpersonal connections.

IV. Urban economic development: Uneven economic growth can contribute to urban fragility by widening social cleavages.

·         (6) Wealth disparity: Economic inequality at the local level is highly visible to urban residents and can contribute to tensions born of marginalization.

·         (7) Percentage of population in slums: High proportions of a city’s population living in slums are indicative of an economy unable to positively engage the entire population in formal economic activity.

V. Urban citizenship: The failure of a city to provide all of its residents with a secure home and access to basic services may indicate a fundamental weakness of the state.

·         (8) Land tenure: Access to a secure place to live safeguarded by law is a first step to a sense of ownership in the city, and the responsibilities of citizenship that it instils.

·         (9) Access to public services: High levels of access to public services indicate socio-economic inclusion.

VI. Urban demographic stability: Sudden changes in demographic composition can create tensions between what a city is capable of providing and what its population demands.

·         (10) Age distribution: “Youth bulges” create economic pressures such as a demand for jobs that may not be met by the city. High youth unemployment is correlated with crime, which threatens public security.

·         (11) Population growth: Sudden increases in population, whether caused by high birth rates or migration, can strain the ability of cities to provide services and lead to increased competition over scarce resources in urban spaces.

Important Notices
© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance