31 January 2019

Sustaining Peace in Cities

Considering the rapidly increasing risk of conflict and insecurity in cities, a group of experts have contributed to a volume addressing this issue. Its editors are Dr Achim Wennmann and Dr Oliver Jütersonke, from the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP). They tell us more about Urban Safety and Peacebuilding: New Perspectives on Sustaining Peace in the City, published last December by Routledge as part of the CCDP series “Studies in Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding”.

What motivated you to edit a book on urban safety and peacebuilding?

Cities are quite obviously the future. They are not just the spaces where most people already live but also the spaces where conflicts, violence and insecurities converge into a pressure cooker and you don’t quite know when it will explode and who will suffer most. Of course, cities are also the place where a critical mass of people come together to push technological and societal innovation, so one should not demonise the urban space either. But many cities are experiencing unplanned urbanisation at staggering rates, and social inequalities, marginalisation and exclusion are standard features of many cities around the globe. We thus wanted to study the conceptual and practical advances on urban safety and peacebuilding and thereby expand the options for effective policy responses or programmes. The book takes stock of three years of joint reflection by the Technical Working Group on the Confluence of Urban Safety and Peacebuilding Practice convened by the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform, UN-Habitat and the United Nations Office at Geneva.

What are the central contributions of your book from a conceptual standpoint?

Conceptually, the book breaks new ground by making sense of the confluence of urban safety and peacebuilding practice. The book shows that researchers and practitioners from the urban safety and peacebuilding communities tend to remain in separate disciplinary or operational silos, despite there being much potential – in theory – to work together in many contexts. The book therefore proposes to allow “patterns of consent and disagreement” to emerge, without “preconceived analytical categories” such as peacebuilding or urban safety. The book also contributes to an “urban turn” in the peacebuilding literature by taking the discussion beyond a traditional framing of “interstate” or “civil” war towards the various manifestations of violence, conflict and insecurities in cities and the need for innovative policy responses.

Based on the research presented in the book, what do you think policymakers should do?

Policymakers should wake up and face the realities of cities. The focus is currently on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda, but much of the work is stuck at the national level. They do not ask how such implementation is supposed to work in the city. The book illustrates, for instance, the importance of thinking in spatial terms – such as by reconfiguring a public square or other urban designs, within so-called “spaces of exception” in which rival gangs don’t kill each other at sight, or simply within the household, which remains the primary place for violence against women. The contributions also highlight the centrality of participatory processes that involve all urban safety and security actors in deliberation, and that take into serious account the political economy realities of people who engage in some form of violence or extortion.

Lastly, how do you see the future of peacebuilding activities in violent urban areas?

The future is already in cities. A lot of what we call “peacebuilding” already happens in cities, it is just not called by that name. The important work of violence interrupters from Los Angeles to Chicago, community-based programming in Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and Jenin, the facilitation of gang truces or transformation processes in El Salvador or Ecuador all happened without being called “peacebuilding”. So, it’s less about looking for a “blueprint” of peacebuilding practice that we identify or implement somewhere, it is about studying and working with responses to violence and insecurities that build on dialogue and negotiation, on confidence-building processes or other means to resolve conflict in non-violent ways.

Full citation of Dr Wennmann and Dr Jütersonke’s edited book:
Wennmann, Achim, and Oliver Jütersonke, eds. Urban Safety and Peacebuilding: New Perspectives on Sustaining Peace in the City. London: Routledge, 2019.

The volume notably includes:

  • “Understanding the Grammar of the City: Urban Safety and Peacebuilding Practice through a Semiotic Lens”, by Oliver Jütersonke and Jonathan Luke Austin, an alumnus of the Institute and now at the CCDP
  • “Gangland Terra Nullius: Violence, Territoriality, and the Bottom-up Spaces of Peacebuilding in Urban Nicaragua”, by Graduate Institute Professor Dennis Rodgers
  • “Daring the Unconventional on the Pathways for Peace: On the ‘How’ of Sustaining Peace in the City”, by Achim Wennmann

Front illustration by Luz Rosa / Shutterstock.com.
Interview by Buğra Güngör, PhD candidate in International Relations and Political Science.