The rapid urbanization of the developing world is giving rise to a host of concerns about the implications of “fragile” cities in relation to security, development and humanitarian action. Presently, more than half of the world resides in cities, and the latest projections reveal that this will rise to almost three quarters by 2050 or 7 billion people. The majority of global urban population growth will be concentrated in large and intermediate cities and their sprawling informal settlements in low-income settings. The refocusing of policy makers on the city is also taking place against an apparent decline in inter- and intra-state conflict over the past two decades and an apparent surge in more acute forms of organized violence associated with networked armed groups and criminal gangs. A debate is brewing on the scope and scale of urban violence in the twenty first century, the challenge this presents to the humanitarian sector, whether and in what ways the humanitarian community should respond. This article offers some preliminary observations on trends in urbanization and urban violence with insights from the security studies and urban geography literatures. Drawing on the experiences of practitioners, it also introduces some reflections on how humanitarian actors are coming to terms with chronic and acute forms of urban violence. It makes the case for humanitarian agencies to more robustly and comprehensively engage with the causes and consequences of urban violence and argues that practitioners must expand the lens of analysis to consider the specific humanitarian needs of populations affected by endemic urban violence.
The scope and scale of post-war violence is often more severe than anticipated. If left unchecked, many fear that complex forms of insecurity can potentially tip ‘fragile’ societies back into armed conflict. A host of conventional security promotion activities are routinely advanced to contend with such violence including disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR). There are also many less widely recognised examples of security promoting activities that deviate from – but also potentially reinforce and enhance – DDR and SSR. Innovation and experimentation by mediators and practitioners has led to the emergence of alternative, and in certain cases complementary, approaches to addressing the risks and symptoms of post-war violence including interim stabilization measures and second generation security promotion interventions. Drawing on evidence from a wide variety of settings, the article sets out an array of contextual determinants shaping the character and effectiveness of security promotion on the ground. It then issues a typology of security promotion practices – some that occur before, during and after conventional interventions such as DDR and SSR – offering a sample of entry-points for erstwhile warring parties, mediators, donors and others involved in promoting stability and post-war violence reduction. This typology implies a challenging new research agenda for the growing field of security and development.