Designing Out Crime in the World's Fragile Cities

In the fourth blog in the Cities, Violence and Order series, Dennis Rodgers offers three provocations, two predictions and a contrarian statement on violence and order in the future city.

Three provocations, two predictions, and a contrarian statement

What might 'violence' and 'order' mean for cities in the future? This is an important question to consider because cities are often inherently associated with violence. This particular perception goes back to the intellectual tradition of the famous Chicago School of Sociology, and Louis Wirth's classic 1938 essay on 'Urbanism as a Way of Life', but it continues to implicitly and explicitly be at the heart of most current debates about the future of cities. This is consequently generally seen as likely to be highly dystopian in nature, with visions of 'disembedded' or 'fragile cities' abounding in both policy and academic debates.

Beyond such visions – and even if it has not always been the case historically – there is no doubt that cities have increasingly become key loci of violence and disorder during the past half century or so. This is important because history also teaches us that cities are 'path dependent', both in the sense that their futures are often shaped by their pasts – something that can be seen clearly vis-à-vis transport, insofar as US cities have been shaped and ruled by cars, for example… – but also more generally in terms of our underlying urban cosmology. Certainly, the notion that cities are spaces of uncertainty, unpredictability, fear, and insecurity is very persistent, and manifests itself in popular but sensationalistic ideas about 'feral cities' or 'urban battlespaces', for example.