Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Crime and Violence in an Urbanizing World

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Crime and Violence in an Urbanizing World

Article excerpt

"[C]ivilian helicopter traffic in Sao Paulo has become the busiest on earth. The city currently boasts some 240 helipads, compared with 10 in New York, allowing the privileged to fly to and from their well-guarded homes to work or shopping or their country houses."

In diagnoses of contemporary threats to state stability, urbanization is inevitably included among the litany of emerging challenges, along with growing cross-border flows of asylum seekers and illegal migrants, continuing high rates of population growth and young age structures in certain poor, unstable countries.

For the foreseeable future, virtually all of the world's population growth will occur in urban areas. Between 2000 and 2030, urban population is expected to increase by 2.1 billion inhabitants, nearly as much as the 2.2 billion that will be added to the entire population of the world. There are significant regional differences. Latin America is the most urbanized region in the developing world, with three-quarters of its inhabitants living in urban areas--roughly the same percentage as in the United States. Africa has the lowest level of urbanization but the fastest urban growth. Asia has a level of urbanization very similar to that of Africa but will have to absorb huge population increments in the next several decades. (See Table 1.) Whereas urban growth rates are not unprecedented, what is unprecedented is the scale of urban growth. As of 1950, there were 86 cities in the world with more than 1 million inhabitants. Today, there are 400 such cities and, by 2015, there will be some 150 more. (1)

Over the past several decades, massive public protests and riots in cities throughout the developing world have resulted in significant loss of life and widespread destruction of property. Indeed, between 1976 and 1992, more than 146 separate incidents of strikes, riots and demonstrations took place in various developing-country cities. (2) Such disturbances were at times triggered by immediate economic circumstances (e.g., rising food prices, food scarcity, currency devaluation, austerity measures) or by political upheavals. In some cases, particularly on the Indian sub-continent, simmering ethnic and communal tensions surfaced during such episodes, resulting in an even higher toll of death and destruction. Such occurrences of citywide violence not only have destroyed physical capital but also discouraged foreign direct investment, thereby threatening already fragile national economies and even potentially destabilizing governments.

In recent years, other less visible changes have occurred in many cities in the developing world, perhaps reflecting the dark side of globalization. Organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorist networks, for example, have become a growing global presence, undermining public security in many cities. Indeed, over the past decade, cities have been the locus of terrorist attacks: More than 150 cities across the globe experienced at least one terrorist act between 1993 and 1997 (3) and many more have since then. Capitalizing on increased cross-border flows of goods, money and people, criminal organizations also have expanded their territorial reach, positioning themselves in new markets and expanding their range of illicit activities to include trafficking in humans and small arms and wide-scale money laundering. In the process, they have increased their wealth and power relative to many national and city governments. In a number of Latin American and Asian cities, for example, powerful narcotics constituencies increasingly threaten the exercise of sovereignty and the rule of law.

Since September 11, 2001, of course, the connection between cities and terrorism has drawn increasing scrutiny. It has become evident that al-Quaeda and other terrorist groups have operated with impunity in a number of cities in Europe, South Asia and the Middle East, utilizing sophisticated communications technology. …

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