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UNCHS (Habitat) Backgrounder - Topic: Safer Cities Programme

23 September 1998 - Urbanization often goes hand in hand with a rise in urban violence and crime. Throughout developing countries, petty and violent crime has increased. This situation has generated a feeling of insecurity, stigmatized some poor neighbourhoods and produced a "state of war" in some slums and squatter areas. This is why urban poor in many big cities demand safety first.

Organized crime has also contributed to the globalization of crime around the world. Organized crime and white-collar corruption have a significant impact on collective and individual trust in public institutions. One of the problems today is the reinforcement of the linkage between macro- and micro-criminality. In fact, organized crime tends to use young delinquents as a cheap labour force. This situation can lead to the consolidation of a gang sub-culture progressively rooted in the urban context.

The City's role in crime Prevention

The common policy response to urban violence of looking exclusively at the police's' role, remains insufficient if it is not accompanied by crime prevention policies supported by a coalition of civil society organizations. This is why, local governments are seen as the key players in coalitions and community-wide planning strategies. The involvement of local governments in crime prevention is new. It was promoted by the Montreal(1989) and Paris (1991) Mayors' Conferences on this issue. The main initiatives taken since then have been in industrialized countries and Latin America. However, there is an increased awareness of the relevance of this issue and concrete responses by the cities have begun in Africa. Johannesburg has been a pioneer city in this approach.

This approach is quite innovative. It changes the usual notion of security as the exclusive responsibility and concern of the State, the Police or private security services. It involves a local coalition of key actors who participate in the local diagnosis of insecurity, and in the formulation and implementation of the solutions. It is based on creating a close proximity between the police and justice system. It makes each citizen an actor in the (re)building of security. It is also innovative in the practices it generates.


HABITAT initiatives on urban safety

UNCHS (Habitat) has been addressing the issue of urban security in cities of developing countries since 1993. The Centre, initially through the Urban Management Programme (UMP) and during the period 1993-1996, has created awareness of the role of cities and the practical means of addressing the problem. This role has been recognized at the Habitat II Conference and in the Habitat Agenda. These UMP initiatives have focused on two aspects: urban violence and the related topic of access to justice for the urban poor. UMP organized a Latin American conference on urban violence (CALI, 1993) and co-sponsored with IFRA the African conference on "Urban violence in Africa" (IBADAN, 1994). The contributions of these conferences have been published.

In addition, an overview on access to justice for the urban poor was undertaken in Latin America and Africa and the results have been published. A study made in co-operation with the European Forum on Urban Safety has also been published on "The Mediation System in China" ( 1996). The initiatives of Habitat and UMP have also led to the creation in 1996 of Safer Cities programme with the support of the Dutch Co-operation.


Safer Cities Programme

The aim of this Programme is to reduce crime and violence by providing technical assistance to cities in an effort to develop sustainable strategies to face crime and its causes. Safer Cities main objective is capacity building in matters of crime prevention for the benefit of local governments and community organizations. Through specific projects' implementation at city level, as in Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam, it strengthens the capacity of municipalities to face insecurity, to make everyone responsible for reducing crime and to develop a culture of prevention. Capacity building also addresses the training of municipal police in matters of prevention.

Safer Cities is facing an increasing demand from African, Asian and Latin American cities and even from Eastern European cities. In the near future, a Safer Cities project will begin in Abidjan and in Durban. The cities of Dakar, Antananarivo, Cape Town and Tirana (Albania) are requesting the Safer Cities Programme for technical assistance.

This Programme also promotes and consolidates cities' networks dealing with crime prevention at regional and national levels. For this purpose, it has contributed in the launching of the African Forum on Urban Safety, created this year in Dakar by Mayors of cities from 20 African countries. Presently it contributes to the creation of the Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal National Forum for Urban Safety. It is actively involved in the preparation of the next international conference of mayors for urban safety to be organized in Johannesburg by the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipal Council in October this year. This event will be the first international meeting on this topic in a developing country.

The programme also aims at disseminating tools for reducing crime and causes of crime. At present Safer Cities has produced policy papers on "Police, Governance and Urban Management", on "Domestic violence and violence against women in cities" and "Guidelines for local governments on street children". These tools are based on experiences of cities or civil society organizations focusing on crime and causes of crime.

This programme has established partnerships with some international institutions to get the support of a broad range of expertise and to exchange knowledge of practices. It's main partners are: the European Forum for Urban Safety and the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC, Montreal). The objectives of these partnerships are to work together on some specific projects, to develop dissemination activities in common, to get specific expertise support and to benefit from the link between research institutions and practitioners.


Sustainable approach

Cities which have requested the Programme's assistance are also prepared to contribute immediately to the financing of the activities by providing additional funds for the existing project (this is the case in Johannesburg and Durban). They are also ready to partially finance a project themselves or to ensure the continuity of the project on their own after a pilot period of 3 years.


Safer cities process

In assisting the cities to develop a community wide planning process to reduce delinquency and causes of crime, Safer Cities proceeds in three steps.

First, it undertakes a needs assessment which constitutes an Urban Safety Appraisal. For this it takes into account not only surveys but the heterogeneous input of a wide range of city actors. The safety appraisal should build the ground for agreement about future concrete participative actions. It identifies those aspects of social disorder which are intolerable for the community and it determines the offenders and the groups at risk.

Second, it builds a partnership among key actors in safety not only at institutional level but also at civil society, private sector, community based organizations levels. This local coalition provides a framework for reaching a consensus on the goals, means and ways to assess and develop prevention activities.

Third, it formulates and implements an action plan in collaboration with the partners. This plan has to indicate clear priorities, goals, indicators, time frame and monitoring system. It may be stated in terms of areas, population groups or specific issues.

A Safer Cities project normally requires a period of three years. After this period the local governments should have gained enough experience to implement their strategy autonomously.

Each city project is led by a co-ordinator who works closely with the municipal council and links with the partners. The co-ordinator should also facilitate the adoption of crime prevention as a cross cutting issue among municipalities.

For further information please contact:
Ms. Christina Engfeldt, Chief
Information & External Relatins
UNCHS (Habitat)
P.O. Box 30030
Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: 623067; 623151 Fax: 624060; 624333

Wednesday 23 Sep 1998
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