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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)


Dr Lloyd Axworthy, co-author of the report 'The Secure City and former Canadian Foreign Minister


Introducing UN-HABITAT
The UN-HABITAT (United Nations Settlement Programme) is the UN agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. The main documents outlining the mandate of the organization are the 'Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements', 'Habitat Agenda', 'Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements', the 'Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium', and 'Resolution 56/206'. (www.unchs.org )

Habitat was established in 1978 after a meeting in Vancouver known as Habitat I, at a time when the impacts of urbanization were less significant. A major revitalization of UN-HABITAT occurred from 1997 to 2002, by which time half the world had become urban. In 1996 the UN's second conference on cities, Habitat II, was held in Istanbul, Turkey to assess progress since Vancouver and set goals for the new millennium. The political document that emerged, the 'Habitat Agenda', contains over 100 commitments and 600 recommendations, and was adopted by 171 countries. On 1 January 2002, the mandate of UN-HABITAT became an official programme of the UN system in United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/56/206.

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.