Protecting fast-growing cities from failure

Rob Muggah explains his solutions for fragile cities in newly launched TED Talk video.

By: /
15 January, 2015
By: OpenCanada Staff

It is possible to reduce global violence around the world by 50 percent in the next three decades. But only if we focus on cities — especially the most dangerous ones, says OpenCanada contributor Robert Muggah, whose talk on the topic was launched Thursday on, which hosts video of the organization’s conferences with top thinkers from around the world.

Muggah was one of 68 speakers selected for TED Global in Brazil in October 2014.

“Our cities – especially fragile ones — will define the landscape of future stability and disorder. Tomorrow’s wars and humanitarian aid will take place there. And the fight for development – global reductions in poverty, inequality and improvements in health and education – will be won or lost in their slums,” Muggah says. “We’re facing a stark dilemma, where about 600 cities are going to thrive and drive global growth, while hundreds more will stumble and fall backward.”

Muggah further explores solutions for fixing these fragile cities in a piece in Foreign Affairs, also published this week.

According to Muggah, there are a few mega-risks that are making cities fragile. The first is the concentration of lethal violence in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The second is turbo-urbanization — the fact that 90 percent of future urban growth will occur in these same regions. A third trend is the expansion of the youth bulge — people under 30 years of age — in fragile cities. Another major risk is new technologies enabling more and more residents to engage in digital protest and real revolution.

Muggah outlines five steps to be taken:

  1. Policymakers should start a conversation. Muggah argues that we cannot ignore the challenge of fragile cities, focusing only on those global cities that work. We need to change the trajectory of fragile cities and account for multiple risks, not just one. He encourages mayors to partner successful cities with fragile and violence-affected ones, jump-starting a process of learning and collaboration to learn strategies that work to tackle crime.

  2. To significantly reduce lethal violence around the world, planners need to focus on hot cities and hot spots. In virtually any city, one to two percent of street addresses account for around 100 percent of violence. There are examples everywhere of how evidence-based policing has changed the game. One of the most inspired examples is São Paulo, which went from being one of Brazil’s most dangerous cities to one of its safest.

  3. Leaders also focus on hot people – those most at risk of killing and being killed. Tragic as it is, lethal violence is often highly concentrated among young males – often unemployed, uneducated and black. This issue is about men and boys and leaders have to focus on them to get this problem under control. If the cycle of violence is to be broken – as many cities are doing – leaders need to invest in young boys and promote education, jobs and recreation.

  4. City leaders need to make cities safer, more inclusive and livable. Instead of reproducing exclusion, segregation and walls, planners need to build-in inclusivity, open planning and community cohesion from the start. The great example of how to do this comes from Medellin, Colombia, which went from being the world’s murder capital to a model city. Its mayor did this by implementing a host of measures, the most visible being the integration of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods with the rest of the city through a network of cable cars, public transport systems and first-class infrastructure.

  5. City fragility can be reversed by harnessing the power of new technologies. There are examples everywhere of how technology is improving governance and participation in cities. Predictive analytics and mobile technologies hold enormous promise. Muggah says he has worked with talented programmers from Monterrey to Nairobi to find ways to crowd-source security solutions. More and more people are using their own smart phones to map out areas of safety and insecurity. In the future, smart cities will be safer cities.

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