UCT hosts United Nations Expert Group on Governing Safer Cities in a Globalised World

29 Feb 2016
29 Feb 2016

With two-thirds of the current world population likely to reside in urban environments by 2030, most cities, particularly those in the developing world confront both a range of opportunities and challenges. One of the of the most important of these is how, in divided and contested urban spaces, safety can be more effectively delivered to all the inhabitants of the city.

Supported by financing from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Centre of Criminology in the Faculty of Law has managed a research process across 10 global cities faced by similar challenges. These are Cape Town (South Africa), Lagos (Nigeria), Nairobi (Kenya), Karachi (Pakistan), Istanbul (Turkey), Medellín (Colombia), Mexico City (Mexico), São Paulo (Brazil), Kingston (Jamaica) and Manila (Philippines).

Research in all the cities shows the critical interface between global illicit flows (of amongst others, drugs, money, environmental commodities and people) and local forms of insecurity. The analysis suggests that in all these cities local safety cannot only be a feature of a set of local conditions: it is a combination of the local and the global.

Urban safety in many ways is the new frontier of international security. Yet, city institutions and governments are often poorly placed and resourced to respond and often lack control over dedicated policing resources.

Challenges in the area of corruption of state institutions and powerful criminal interests that occupy parts of some cities, means that there are no easy solutions. Nevertheless, cities in developing countries in the context of limited resources are pioneering a variety of safety governance strategies: these rely less on classic western models of crime prevention and increasingly on attempts to bridge social and structural divides.

How local and national governments, business and civil society cooperate in these endeavours is critical to their success. In some places nothing less then a reversal of “criminal governance” is required. That means trying a variety of strategies that seek to link developmental and security interventions, bridge historical divides, promote the legitimacy of local institutions and bolster the culture of the rule of law. This requires leadership, dedicated resources, cooperation across different levels of government, both practical and symbolic actions, and the ability to experiment more widely on people centered safety strategies.

The result of the research is a Guide for Policy Makers on “Governing Safer Cities in a Globalised World”.

The draft guide will be discussed by 40 experts on urban safety, including both practitioners and scholars, in Cape Town from 2 to 4th March. Cape Town, given its own challenges with achieving safety and UCT’s long history of research and engagement in the issue, is uniquely placed to host the meeting.

With support from the National Research Foundation and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime, UCT is increasingly a centre of global expertise on illicit markets and organised crime. This, combined with a history of work on gangs and community safety, provide an important opportunity for UCT experts to contribute to the wider global debate.