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Researching the Urban Dilemma: Urbanization, Poverty and Violence


About this resource

Resource type:Research, reports and studies
Keywords:Conflict, violence & peace, Poverty, Response and recovery, Urban
Agency:DFID - Department for International Development (UK), International Development Research Centre
Author(s):Muggah, R.
Date published:May 2012

Introducing the urban dilemma

The world recently entered an unprecedented period of urbanization. Just 600 urban centers now generate roughly 60 per cent of global GDP. Most urban growth, however, is occurring not in wealthy settings but rather in the expanding cities and slums of developing countries. Many of the fastest growing metropolises are also witnessing a sharp escalation in the incidence and severity of various forms of urban violence, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa, though other urban centers in South and Central Asia are increasingly affected. Concerns registered by security and aid experts alike are the ways in which the urban poor are directly and indirectly implicated in such violence, and the wider consequences of violence in cities for national and regional stability and development more generally.

The generation of solid research on the urban dilemma is not an “academic” issue. Solid data and analysis is vital to countering the prevailing bias in many cities that urban security is necessarily a function of the urban poor. Elites often ascribe urban disorder to “gangs”, unemployed “youth”, and “overcrowded” slums while side-stepping political, social and economic failures in relation to governance, planning and inclusive citizenship. Indeed, research on the political economy of the urban dilemma is sorely lacking. Even so, assessments of evaluated practice reveal that a combination of visionary political leadership, proactive community involvement, and routine evidence-collection are critical preconditions for resolving the urban dilemma. Harnessing local capacities, identifying political “moments of opportunity” and ensuring adequate and predictable financing are also seen as critical. Virtually all experts agree that when states overprescribe violence or lose the ability to manage and monopolize it, the potential for violence will likely escalate.

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