Cities under Threat

Building safe cities needs a radical surgery of existing urban safety and security mechanism. There is a growing need that local governments improve their safety mechanism to make cities impregnable through traditional ways and means such as
improving intelligence systems and also through enrooting integrated technological tools for crime and conflict prevention

Cities are under threat from multiple fronts— terrorist activities, increasing crime rate, social unrest, organised criminal activities, natural disasters, and many more. Making cities safe places to live is a challenge for national and city governments around the world. Despite having resources and man power in plenty, urban areas are more vulnerable to such threats than rural areas. Cities have always been the target of terrorists’ attacks and prone to an array of criminal activities ranging from murders, rape and burglary, to extortion, kidnapping and so on. Any incident that takes place in a city like Delhi or Paris is more likely to get global media attention. In case of terror attacks, attacking cities serves the purpose of terrorists and multiplies the desired outcomes of their acts.

The unplanned growth of cities often leads to gaps in public service delivery system that includes law enforcement too. It is imperative that central and state governments should encourage collaboration between urban planners, civil society, government officials, and different types of security forces incharge of maintaining law and order in their respective cities to prevent crime and create a safe environment for citizens to live.

Urban terrorism

Regular terrorist attacks on cities demonstrate that cities, even after affecting millions of people to terrorism and suffering immeasurable damage to infrastructure and financial resources, are susceptible to terrorist acts. Cities globally have improved security standards, surveillance mechanism, and devoted more security personnel to guard public places in urban settings but attacks on cities have not stopped. Cities are attacked rampantly not just in global south or in developing countries but all over the world. Recent terrorist attacks in the cities of developed nations—the USA, Belgium, France and Germany— extend an enlarged sense of urban vulnerability. The major cities of these countries are considered to be well prepared and equipped with better resources to thwart such attacks in comparison to cities in developing countries as in Pakistan, Iraq, Bangladesh or in India. According to a report by the Institute for Economic and Peace, there has been a steep rise in the number of deaths from terrorism, rising from 3,329 in 2000 to 32,685 in 2014.

Indian cities are not alien to terrorist attacks. Most of the major cities in the country—Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, etc. have suffered the waves of terrorism acts and lost over 2000 citizens and security personnel in the last 20 years. One of the most deadly terrorist attacks in Indian history happened on November 26, 2008. Terrorists symbolically targeted the financial capital of the country- Mumbai leaving around 200 people dead and hundreds injured.

Cities have been the target because they are centres of power, economy, politics and population. Studies suggest that the significance of cities multiplies the desired outcomes of terrorist acts. This trend underlines the fact that urban dwellers and city systems as a whole need better, enhanced security cover to continue going about their daily lives. It is widely accepted that no city can prosper under continuous threat. All of us have witnessed that cities caught between any kinds of conflict remain underdeveloped and lose their sheen over time. Private individuals living in cities are increasingly becoming the targets of terrorists worldwide. If the lives of the people are not safe in a city then it becomes unattractive to tourists, businesses and even the locals prefer to migrate to a safer place to live and work.

Increasing crime rate in cities

The unplanned growth of cities often leads to gaps in public service delivery system that includes law enforcement and security system too. The scale and speed of urbanization has left gnawing gaps in law and order management. According to the recent report Global Terrorism Index- 2015 released by the Institute of Economics and Peace, 13 times as many people are killed globally by homicides than die in terrorist attacks. At least 437,000 people are victims of homicide each year, which is over 13 times the number of victims of terrorism. While, the fear ensued by terrorist act is multifold for many reasons, the data shows that people are also getting inflicted by local violence.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, Surat is the safest city among the 53 cities of India. The data released in 2014 revealed that the city has the lowest crime rate (cognizable crimes under Indian Penal Code)—95.9. While, Indore recorded the highest crime rate 885.9 during 2014. Surat has improved its safety as it had the crime rate 530.1 in 2013 which was much higher than 2014 figure. It is to be noted that ‘Suraksha Setu’ that is part of Safe City Surat project by Gujarat police for community policing has won the special jury award in an event organised by FICCI. The project was meant for safeguarding the city from crime and terror. The project is utilized by the Police authorities to keep a virtual eye on the city movements and monitoring for any illicit or anti-social activities. The Utility and Disaster Management and Planning commissions are taking aid of the hi-tech Information Management Technology for assistance in mechanized co-ordination and planning of their resources in and around the city. Rakesh Asthana, Additional Director, CBI and Former Commissioner, Surat said that his is one of the projects in India which is designed for surveillance, crime prevention and detection, traffic management and support and enforcement, providing disaster management and support and pollution control measures.

Violence against women

Making cities safe for women is a challenge for most of the cities globally. Unsafe environment in urban spaces not just does physical harm to women but also restricts their free movement in cities and limits their access to the enormous opportunities that cities offer for employment, for education, for leisure and for personal development. There are multiple factors which need to be considered while planning to make cities safer for women. Women belonging to different groups have varying experiences of cities. Their experience is shaped by factors such as age, economic status, ethnicity and migrant status.

All the stakeholders such as urban local bodies, law enforcement agencies, people’s representatives, community groups, civil society organizations and women groups should be engaged in decision making process and planning of public spaces to enable the free movement of women in cities. UN Women’s Global Flagship Initiative, “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces,” builds on its “Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls” Global Programme. It was launched in November 2010, with leading women’s organizations, UN agencies, and more than 70 global and local partners. According to the UN report, it began with funding programmes in Quito, Ecuador; Cairo, Egypt; New Delhi, India; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; and Kigali, Rwanda, and now spans more than 20 cities. The impact of the program was seen in introduction and implementation of several initiatives in different cities. Some of them are:

♦♦ The municipality of Quito has amended a local ordinance to strengthen action against sexual harassment in public spaces.

♦♦ In Cairo, Egypt’s Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Development adopted  omen’s safety audits to guide urban planning, and more than 100 youth agents of change  50 per cent young men and 50 per cent young women) have been engaged and are leading transformative activities in schools and other settings in the programme intervention sites to promote respectful gender relationships, gender equality, and safety  n public spaces.

♦♦ Port Moresby’s National Capital District has taken steps to improve women’s safety in local markets, including budget allocations which ensure that the needs of women and men are taken into account across different municipal departments.

Indian cities are not alien to terrorist attacks. Most of the major cities in the country— Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Ahmadabad, etc. have suffered the waves of terrorist acts and lost over 2000 citizens and security personnel in the last 20 years. One of the most deadly terrorist attacks in Indian history happened on November 26, 2008. Terrorists symbolically targeted the financial capital of the country- Mumbai leaving around 200  people dead and hundreds injured

Cyber safety

To implement technological advancements in urban governance, city governments globally are collecting data and analyzing them to make policies for improving the operational efficiency and improve the standard of living of their citizens. A 2014 study by Hewlett Packard found that 70 percent of IoT devices are vulnerable to an attack. Of 10 commonly used IoT devices, each had an average of 25 vulnerabilities, the report found.

Municipal corporations in India have not yet started collecting data extensively, using sensors and otherwise, like their global counterparts but when the central government has already given the mandate for building smart cities, IoT or sensor enabled devices would play a major role in collecting data. Digital security is a growing concern worldwide. Since Indian cities are at the nascent stage of implementation of Internet of Things assisted technology, it is the right time for cities to build impregnable vanguards to avoid misuse of data that can compromise the safety of citizens and mitigate the effects in case any such incidents take place. This also calls for adequate training of municipal personnel that are going to handle data that belongs to the public. In most cases, the benefits of IoT will outweigh the risks, but companies and consulting agencies trying to introduce such technology in cities must address what could go wrong before something happens.

‘Ring of Steel’: London’s Vanguard

London is among the frontrunner cities which have provided a glimpse of the relation between urban planning and reform in security management mechanism of cities. In the early 90s, the city of London built a Ring of Steel to secure the business district of Central London by implementing a range of safety measures.The Ring of Steel was created in 1993 to protect the City from the threat of terrorism after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had identified the capitalist financial center as a perfect target for their bombing campaign.

According to an article published in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, In July 1993, what was referred to in the media as a Belfaststyle, `ring of steel’ was activated in the City, securing all entrances to the central financial zone. Essentially, the entrances into the City were reduced from over thirty to seven where road-checks manned by armed police were set up. The City’s Ring of Steel represented a far more symbolic and technologically advanced approach to security, which tried to avoid the `barrier mentality’ of Belfast in favour of less overt security measures. In the City of London territorial approaches to security were backed up by the retrofitting of ever advanced CCTV in both private and public and spheres.

“Publicly the police, through an innovative partnership scheme known as `Camera Watch’, encouraged private companies to install CCTV in liaison with neighboring businesses, whilst at the entrances of the ring of steel, as well as strategic points around the Square Mile, the most technologically advanced CCTV cameras available were installed. In February 1997, 24-hour Automated Number Plate Recording (ANPR) cameras, linked to police databases, were fitted at entrances to the ring of steel. These digital cameras were capable of processing the information and giving feedback to the operator within four seconds.” Initially, the physical infrastructure, such as installation of bollards and check points at key places, was set in tune to make the city impregnable. In later years, technologically advanced tools were also put in place. Today, over 500,000 security cameras keep a watch on the ongoing activities at streets, market areas, subways, buses and elsewhere to keep the city safe from any kind of potential threat from terrorists or for that matter, any kind of criminal activities. Many cities across the globe including New York and San Francisco have followed the trail by implementing selective measures to secure their cities, public transport systems and public places.

It is important to note that London hasn’t witnessed any major terrorist attack since 2013. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police credited better co-ordination with security services, improved intelligence gathering and the city’s massive network of closed-circuit television cameras. He says that police had disrupted eight terrorism plots, including a couple that involved assaults on police and military officials.

In the last one decade, digital surveillance system of London has been beefed up to thwart any possible terrorist threat. Many global cities which are facing safety issues can pick up the best practices implemented by the London law and order enforcement agencies to make their public spaces safe.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Feed Your Inbox with Urban Update Weekly Newsletter
We respect your privacy.