Urban violence has doubled in less than 20 years. In the next five years, it is expected that more than half of the world's population living in cities will be victims of crime of some kind. The result of all this criminal activity is incalculable. Annual estimates try to put a figure on the material loss but far worse is the effect on the communities themselves. In many cities, people live in a state of siege. Even in the least affected areas, increasing crime effects major changes in the landscape and patterns of daily living in urban areas. In many cities, fear of violence has discouraged people from using public transport, streets and public spaces. Streets where children used to play, where neighbours used to congregate and where it was common for people to stroll are now much less used. High levels of crime and fear of violence have helped to push shopping malls, office complexes and leisure activities to suburban areas, thereby having a negative impact on the economy of certain neighbourhoods and the city centre.
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.
Urban violence is not a spontaneous phenomenon, but above all the product of a society characterized by inequality and social exclusion. Deteriorating urban environments where the urban poor are deprived of basic services and security of tenure leads to social frustration, which can lead to a culture of violence. Measures that protect urban communities from deprivation, unemployment, homelessness, illiteracy, injustice and social disintegration will ultimately also protect them from crime and violence.
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