Information Services Section
Office of the Executive Director
P.O. Box 30030

Liu Institute for Global Issues
6476 NW Marine Drive
Vancouver, BC
V6T 1Z2

About us

Age-friendly cities
Urban crime 2007
2009 homelessnees in US cities
Security cameras in US cities
Cities' future
Issues facing megacities
$1.4 billion for US homeless
Safest US cities
New Urbanism
Quality of life in Canadian cities
The world's costliest cities
The world's mist liveable cities
The world's largest cities
Urban slums

City Mayors reports news from towns and cities around the world. Worldwide | Elections | North America | Latin America | Europe | Asia | Africa | Events |

Mayors from The Americas, Europe. Asia, Australia and Africa are competing for the annual World Mayor Award. More

City Mayors ranks the world’s largest as well as richest cities and urban areas. It also ranks the cities in individual countries, and provides a list of the capital cities of some 200 sovereign countries. More

City Mayors reports political events, analyses the issues and depicts the main players. More

City Mayors describes and explains the structures and workings of local government in Europe, The Americas, Asia, Australia and Africa. More

City Mayors profiles city leaders from around the world and questions them about their achievements, policies and aims. More

City Mayors deals with economic and investment issues affecting towns and cities. More

City Mayors reports on how business developments impact on cities and examines cooperation between cities and the private sector. More

City Mayors describes and explains financial issues affecting local government. More

City Mayors lists and features urban events, conferences and conventions aimed at urban decision makers and those with an interst in cities worldwide. More

City Mayors reports urban environmental developments and examines the challenges faced by cities worldwide. More

City Mayors reports on and discusses urban development issues in developed and developing countries. More

City Mayors reports on developments in urban society and behaviour and reviews relevant research. More

City Mayors deals with urban transport issues in developed and developing countries and features the world’s greatest metro systems. More

City Mayors examines education issues and policies affecting children and adults in urban areas. More

City Mayors investigates health issues affecting urban areas with an emphasis on health in cities in developing countries. More

City Mayors examines the importance of urban tourism to city economies. More

City Mayors examines the contributions history and culture make to urban society and environment. More

City Mayors describes the history, architecture and politics of the greatest city halls in the world. More

City Mayors invites readers to write short stories about people in cities around the world. More

City Mayors questions those who govern the world’s cities and talks to men and women who contribute to urban society and environment. More

City Mayors profiles national and international organisations representing cities as well as those dealing with urban issues. More

City Mayors reports on major national and international sporting events and their impact on cities. More

City Mayors lists cities and city organisations, profiles individual mayors and provides information on hundreds of urban events. More

Cities can offer the best security
to the greatest number of people
By Nick Swift*

11 July 2004: Cities today are far more susceptible to external threats such as SARS because of their greatly increased connectedness and interdependence; conversely, their ability to anticipate and respond effectively is more constrained. While medical technology and public health systems have, so far, been a barrier, their effectiveness seems to depend on the specific pathogen. The avian flu virus is already a major concern, and scientists agree that another pandemic is only a matter of time. Existing evidence reveals important disconnects in the policy and planning responses among agencies with jurisdiction and responsibility to coordinate an integrated response.

Fourteen of the world's 17 megacities are in coastal areas, and so are more than 40 per cent of second-tier cities. A coastal location presents a special set of challenges in terms both of damage to the environmental features and of vulnerability of human settlements. In surveying the whole range of environmental threats, the World Urban Forum has published 'The Secure City', one of six draft papers in preparation for the World Urban Forum 2006 to be held in Vancouver, Canada.

The paper is authored by Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, Dr. Arthur L. Fallick and Kelly Ross under the auspices of the Liu Institute for Global Issues and the University of British Columbia. The purpose of the papers is to stimulate discussion and debate before, during and following the World Urban Forum 2006. The United Nations has challenged Canada to develop a more interactive and participatory Forum.

The World Urban Forum is held every two years by UN-HABITAT as a global initiative to address and keep abreast of our planet's transition to an urban world. The first was held at UN-HABITAT's headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya in 2002, and the second will take place in Barcelona, Spain from 13 to 17 September 2004. Participation is open to representatives of national governments and Habitat Agenda parties, including local authorities, non-governmental organizations, community based organizations, academies of learning and private businesses and non-profit sectors.

Cities, the authors of the 'Secure City' paper explain, are not only the place where human security is most deeply challenged; they represent our best hope for achieving the highest level of security for the greatest number of people. The paper builds on the metaphor of the city as a mirror to examine a series of reflexive relationships that have an impact on human security and inform a secure city agenda. In addition to the already widely accepted need to think globally and act locally, reflexivity is also apparent in relationships between individual and state and in the impact of human activity on the environment. The growing concern about individual safety and human security is seen as a shift in focus away from the leadership role of nation states, which was explored at Habitat I, and of city states, explored at Habitat II, in the context of those entities' roles in influencing the impact of population growth and urbanization on the environment and human settlements. Alternative planning and policy frameworks explored advance current concepts for building capacity and creating more resilient and adaptive design models. They call for an integrated risk assessment that is responsive to community needs for individual responsibility and community participation to expand social capital.

The paper looks at historical context, and at illustrative examples of threats and forces shaping cities in the 21st Century, and proposes a research agenda to explore relationships between Adaptive, Preventive and Human Security.

Historically, until what has been called the advent of the bourgeois epoch, cities were protected places of freedom that carried with it the responsibility to participate. Under favourable conditions, international commerce and trade were focused on cities. Increasing sophistication, complexity and diversity of services and infrastructure required appropriate structures of governance to coordinate relationships among levels of authority. The Industrial Revolution, the rise of mercantile capitalism and growth in population, however, brought challenges to security that were no longer adequately met through crude exercise of force and erection of physical barriers.

In the twentieth century, unprecedented growth in population, migration and urbanization produced a network of inter-dependent megacities that represent a phenomenal challenge to the effectiveness of contemporary models of planning, design and governance. Developments in transportation, demographic and social conditions and economics resulted, in North America, in subdivisions centred on schools and oriented to the automobile, and the several subsequent mutations thereof. By the 1980s, reactions against the idea of the city as a closed system logically led to demands for greater public influence on planning and design processes, and the prominence of livability and green design issues.

In the contemporary period, the wide range of threats to cities -- from pandemics to environmental degradation and geopolitical instability -- suggests that new models of planning and governance may be necessary. The fraying of the state controlled social safety net may be compensated for by emphasizing civil responsibility on a more local scale. Meanwhile, ancient and perennial problems such as poverty have resisted solution by traditional methods, and in some cases continue to be as much a threat to Human Security as the cataclysmic ones and terrorism. There is evidence to suggest, say the authors of the 'Secure City' paper, that national defense strategies and public policies that over emphasize the strategic importance of territorial boundaries are losing relevance as the means of assuring the security of the city.

The capacity of networks of individuals who are neither bound by nor confined to any one nation state to undermine the way we live is one lesson drawn from observing international terrorism at work. The option of the United States not to align itself more closely with international efforts to combat terrorism, say the authors, goes beyond rhetoric, and Canada's refusal to challenge the US on unilateral imposition of border restrictions may have inadvertently reduced landed immigrants to second-class citizens. They deplore what they see as the disproportionate investment in missile defense and attempts to shore up porous borders while doing very little to empower cities to systematically address their vulnerabilities, and, without referring to the invasion of Iraq specifically, the use of the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks... as a pretext to invade other countries and re-deploy billions of dollars into strategic national defense budgets.

Cities in the USA, the paper points out, largely paid for the ramifications of the 'Orange Alert' announced by a federal agency in December 2003. Canadian cities, moreover, are no less ill equipped to respond effectively to such attacks.

An essential vulnerability of urban public health systems as they have evolved since the social reforms of the nineteenth century is that, like other urban systems, they have become greatly dependent on highly centralized networks and infrastructure. The technological systems grow more complex and interdependent, creating 'knock-on effects'. The need, then, is to find decentralized models.

Seventeen years after the United Nations declared the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, the conclusion of extended examinations of the current situation by Canadian media is that the problem is getting worse and there are no quick fix solutions. Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell has defined the challenge as to find the appropriate mix of enforcement, cooperative action, treatment and assistance.

Governments generally allocate budgets in ways that tend to separate issues rather than address their interconnectedness... Cities are at the forefronts of threats to human security, say the authors of 'The Secure City'. We see it in the form of terrorist attacks, but what about more systemically, through the devastation brought about by the destruction associated with drug trafficking and crime?

In the part of the paper that attempts to formulate an agenda for security, it is pointed out that the efforts over the past two decades of central government to create and maintain urban sustainability have been forced into retreat, and from the mid-1990s, cities were forced to become the agents of their own destiny.

In preparation for the 2006 World Urban Forum, an ambitious research agenda is proposed that goes beyond the usual focus on national defense policy, law enforcement, and strategies for protecting private property, to include civil responsibility as a means of increasing social capital, resilient urban systems as a way to build capacity, and alternative policy and planning models that can be responsive to 21st Century urban concerns.

*This is an edited version of Nick Swift's article. The full article can be obtained free of charge by emailing City Mayors. (Key word in subject like: Secure cities)

World Mayor 2023