Beyond Walls: Security in the Coming Urban Age

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Beyond Walls: Security in the Coming Urban Age
By: Scott Aughenbaugh

Rates of urbanization are accelerating in many parts of the world. Comparison of the urbanization patterns in China and the United States illustrates this trend well: it took the United States 34 years (1918–1952) to move from 50 percent to 60 percent urban; it will take China only a decade (2008–2018). This is a twenty-first-century phenomenon that extends beyond these countries as nascent “megacities” defy conventional understandings of the forces stimulating urbanization and the structures and patterns such processes produce. These newer urban agglomerations face civic challenges such as demographic pressures, social strife, resource availability, improvement of infrastructure, and provision of services like health care and education. Ultimately, as noted in the United Nation’s State of the World’s Cities, quality of life for inhabitants rests on the capacity of governance to secure urban spaces.

As these cities continue to grow, we need to develop a better understanding of modern urban morphology, which in many ways reveals trends strikingly different from historical city growth. Many postcolonial, lowto middle-income countries continue to experience rapid rates of urban growth despite economic depression. Also, modern urbanization does not necessitate increased population density; “Cities that were dense, compact and continuous have become diffuse, loose and discontinuous.” Expanding urban peripheries present new challenges for governance and security, and more spatially diffuse cities place great pressure on environmental assets.”

Urban sociologist Robert Park remarked “if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live.” While certain characteristics are permanent, can we proactively design cities to build community and security rather than crude physical retrofits of concrete barriers and gated compounds? As we continue to see the growth of these urban environments, can we ameliorate security of urban slums with workforce development, housing, and sanitation? A better understanding of these factors may help to preempt a future of urban despair.

Scott Aughenbaugh is a deputy director of Strategic Futures at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Other posts by .


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