UN-Habitat’s Safer Cities Programme was launched in 1996 at the request of African Mayors seeking to tackle urban crime and violence in their cities. To date UN-Habitat has supported initiatives in 77 cities in 24 countries worldwide. The Safer Cities Programme has evolved over time as knowledge on the drivers of urban insecurity has been gained and approaches to addressing it have been refined.

Today the Programme embraces a holistic, integrated, multi-level government and multi-sectoral approach to improving the livability of cities and quality of life for all urban residents, predicated on the confidence that good urban governance, planning and management can improve the safety of neighborhoods.

The urban crime prevention approach

The Programme started with the “Urban Crime Prevention Approach” which focused on the three pillars of:

  • Institutional crime and violence prevention – promoting the role of local government in providing safety and security for their inhabitants, promoting alternative forms of policing (community policing and problem-oriented policing), alternative forms of justice and bringing justice closer to the people (e.g. tribunals and traditional community conflict mediation mechanisms)
  • Social crime prevention – focusing on youth at risk and women and girls safety
  • The physical environment

The multi-dimensional approach to urban safety

The second phase focused on the multi-dimensional approach to urban safety and two new areas were added to the equation:

  • Security of tenure and forced evictions – land ownership is often the cause of a lot of violence and conflict (e.g. Colombia and Kenya)
  • Natural disaster and conflicts also cause situations of lawlessness and provides a window for insecurity to rise (e.g. Hurricane Catherina and the earthquake in Haiti – were followed by a situation of complete lawlessness when the institutions crumbled!

Enhancing safety through planning, management and governance

The third phase has again expanded with another dimension: Enhancing safety through planning, management and governance.

  • The planning (and also the un-planning) of cities has an effect on safety and people’s feelings of safety
  • The management of the city streets and public spaces is also key to ensure that neighborhoods are kept safe – this is not only the role of the local authority, there are models where community ownership and management is crucial in ensuring that these spaces are safe.
  • Good governance and well-functioning governments support safe cities – cities with weak governance are cities often rife with crime and violence.

This phase considers the citywide plan for safety as a planning tool for social integration, focusing on neighbourhood planning with tools for community appropriation, access rights and allocation of streets and public spaces as sites for the construction of citizenship values. The three phases should not be seen as separate phases, but more as building layers on top of each other, refining and enhancing each other – moving towards a more comprehensive approach on urban safety rather than narrowly focusing on crime and violence prevention.

Local authorities and safer cities

Local authorities have a key role to play in addressing the issues of safety. Success depends on partnerships between local governments and other stakeholders. The Safer Cities Programme support local authorities in developing and implementing safety strategies using a systematic approach:

  • Identifying and mobilizing diverse local partners who can contribute to reducing insecurity;
  • Creating a local safety coalition/partnership led by a public leader;
  • Assessing, measuring and understanding the safety and security issues on the neighbourhood and city level;
  • Developing a local crime prevention/urban safety strategy and a detailed plan of action;
  • Implementing the strategy and action plan through initiatives that improve social cohesions and community engagement in prevention;
  • Institutionalization of the participatory approach by incorporating safety as a cross-cutting dimension in various departments and institutions of local government, criminal justice system and civil society. This requires capacity development, coaching and sometimes institutional reform.

Reviewing the State of Safety in World Cities Conference

Cities are not just the places where a majority of the world’s population lives; they have also become major sites to advance human security and development. Building on the need for safer cities for people, and for stronger enabling conditions for development, this concept note describes the rationale, objectives, outputs and design of a conference in Geneva in July 2016 that takes stock of advances in urban safety following on the outcomes of the 2007 Conference on the State of Safety in World Cities.

The upcoming conference has the overall objectives to assess the state of safety in world cities as a contribution of UN-Habitat and partners to the HABITAT III Summit and the New Urban Agenda. It also draws together the achievements of 20 years of UN-Habitat Safer Cities Programme, and its related network of cities and partners under the framework of the Global Network on Safer Cities (GNSC), its Steering Committee, the Technical Working Group on the Confluence of Urban Safety and Peacebuilding Practice, the Technical Working Group on Safe Smart Cities, the Technical Working Group on Gender and Safety, the Technical Working Group on Safe Public Spaces, the Regional Forums for Urban Safety (Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America), the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing, and the United Smart Cities Project.

It also captures the consolidated inputs of various UN agencies on the state of safety in world cities – in particular, the process around the Habitat III Issue Paper on Safer Cities, Safer Cities 2.0 policy paper for the new urban agenda, and the draft UN Guidelines on Safer Cities and its related instruments – the urban safety monitor, the compendium of promising practices, citizens awareness campaigns and pilot technical cooperation at national and city levels. By bringing these efforts together, the conference aims to strengthen urban solutions to conflict and insecurity and to ensure complementarity between urban safety policies and the implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For more details about the event, click here. 

To get involved with the Safer Cities Programme, see the Global Network on Safer Cities Contact safer.cities@unhabitat.org