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Safe Cities

What makes Safe Cities safe?

As the world’s urban population escalates, and technology evolves at a staggering velocity, the manner in which cities protect their critical assets and networks falls further under the spotlight. Currently, 50 percent of the world’s inhabitants live within a city, a figure set to rise by a further 20 percent within the next 35 years. Cities are working to protect their citizens, but the question is – what makes Safe Cities safe?

Civil authorities are waking up to the fact that these dramatic increases in urban population will demand vast upgrades across a variety of factors including connectivity, access to energy, clean air and water, and transportation. High on this list is the need to be able to respond effectively to emergencies or intrusions across such widespread areas, thereby ensuring the safety and security of the average citizen.

Given the demand on surveillance measures this may seem an intimidating task, but with the rise of command and control (C2) centres, civil authorities are finding a method to oversee even the biggest municipalities without having to overstretch limited resources.

Aside to standard emergency response, this social phenomenon introduces a whole host of other, arguably more serious, security challenges with which governments and authorities are struggling to cope. In a world where threats can be common, expected and unexpected, providing inhabitants with a sense of security is a daily pressure that shows no signs of subsiding.

Such threats, including terrorist attacks, criminal heists and widespread infrastructure failure have the potential to cause citywide disruption, affecting millions of people. In many cases, this also entails a massive financial risk that can have lasting effects on living standards for years to come. Likewise, a city perceived as unsafe rarely attracts foreign investment and often dissuades foreign workers from adding their skills to the local industry.

Ministers, cities, emergency services and companies overseeing national infrastructure are steadily recognising the need for a united front against these threats. Much of this lies in a requirement for the sharing of information and intelligence assets, as well as knowing how, what and when to disseminate data that could potentially prevent a crisis.

The acquisition of innovative technology has an important role in this development, be it integrated video management systems or the ever-popular rise in unmanned aerial vehicles. However, just as crucial is the need for concerted discussion on legislation, policy and procedure to ensure any investment into equipment does not go to waste.

Responding to the need to help governing bodies reach the goal of transforming their cities to ‘safe city’ status, decision makers are actively looking to learn and connect with global counterparts sharing methods of integrating the collection, analysis and dissemination of critical threat data.

Additional analysis published in The Safe Cities Index 2015, an Economist Intelligence Unit report sponsored by NEC, puts more of a practical spin on Safe Cities. In its executive summary it states:

“Cities are already home to a majority of people on the planet. The current level of urbanisation ranges from 82% of the population in North America to 40% in Africa. But all regions are expected to follow this trend towards greater urbanisation over the next three decades. Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria, is predicted to double in size in the next 15 years.”

Quoting the UN’s latest World Urbanisation Prospects study, the report argues that urban growth is not necessarily the inevitability that many believe: citing low fertility rates, economic contraction and natural disasters all as causes for urban contraction. The population of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, has shrunk by 800,000 since 1990.

The report goes on to delink population size with criminal behaviour and safety, stating that New York had recorded a record high of 2,245 homicides in 1990, equating to six murders per day. Since then the population has grown by over 1 million people, while homicide rates have fallen and in 2013 stood at 335, a historic low.

However, analysis showed that as some threats recede, others mature. The frequency of terrorism and natural disasters has changed the nature of urban safety: power, communications and transport systems must be robust and able to withstand new external shocks. Meanwhile, new risks emerge. Cyber risk has accompanied the advent of the digital age.

Safe Cities

Urban safety is therefore a critical issue that is set to become even more important over time. Securing public safety means addressing a wide—and evolving—range of risks. The Economist Intelligence Unit Safe Cities Index captures this complexity in its full report and tracks the relative safety of a city across four categories: digital security, health security, infrastructure safety and personal safety.

The Index’s key findings include the following:

  • Tokyo tops the overall ranking. The world’s most populous city is also the safest.
  • Safety is closely linked to wealth and economic development. Unsurprisingly, a division emerges in the Index between cities in developed markets, which tend to fall into the top half of the overall list, and cities in developing markets, which appear in the bottom half.
  • Wealth and ample resources are no guarantee of urban safety. Four of the five Middle Eastern cities in the Index are considered high-income, but only one makes it into the top half of the Index.
  • US cities perform most strongly in the digital security category, while Europe struggles. New York is the strongest US city and London the strongest European, with Rome being amongst the lowest.
  • Leaders in digital security must not overlook real-world risks. Urban safety initiatives need to straddle the digital and physical realms as the divide between them blurs.
  • Technology is now on the frontline of urban safety, alongside people. Data is being used to tackle crime, monitor infrastructure and limit the spread of disease. Smarter cities pursue methods of preventing, rather than simply reacting to, these diverse security threats and a lack of data in emerging markets could exacerbate the urban safety divide between rich and poor.
  • Collaboration on safety is critical in a complex urban environment. With increasing interconnectivity of systems, city experts stress the need to bring together representatives from government, business and the community before threats to safety and security strike.
  • Being statistically safe is not the same as feeling safe. The challenge for city leaders is to translate progress on safety into changing public perceptions and ensuring that cities are attractive places to live in.

However, studies are not just limited to powerful organisations such as the Economist Intelligence Unit. Genetec, a pioneer in the physical security and public safety industry, based in Canada but operating globally, have launched a Citywise initiative looking at what the key elements of a Safe City are. They concluded by producing 8 points:

People’s patterns are key:

Information is meant to be analysed. Responsible access to data collected in cities by everyone from the local government to the private sector to citizens themselves – take Twitter, for instance, which can map how people engage with their environments – can lead to illuminating insights and initiatives.

Building better connections:

Safer cities are created through successful partnerships, be they between banks and butchers or police and policy makers. By bringing people together, listening to their needs and working together, cities and citizens create the most sensible solutions.

Efficiency is everything:

High-tech touches don’t necessitate an entire overhaul. Efficient use of existing infrastructure requires synergies, for example using license-plate recognition cameras to redesign roads, make sidewalks safer and ensure trash collection is timely.

Good design makes a difference:

The security of spaces and the safety of the public can be dramatically increased through considered architecture and effective urban planning. Sharper intersection angles force drivers of vehicles to slow while turning and increased sidewalk space brings pedestrians into the sight line of drivers, allowing everyone to move more efficiently and, most importantly, more safely.

Solutions need to be sensitive:

Perceptions of public safety and security depend entirely on what city you’re in. What works in some may very well be considered invasive in others.

Appearances matter:

A bit of grit is okay, but a healthy sense of security can be created by a bit of care. Investing in spaces generates a sense of respect, and ultimately community, while neglect can send subliminal messages that safety isn’t the public’s priority.

Both sides now:

Solutions benefit from seeing both sides. Sure, park designers design parks and road designers design roads, but what people want isn’t just the best parks or the best roads – they want the best public places. Safety isn’t bound by a single discipline; it’s at its best when all aspects work together.

Cities are social spaces:

Old-school urbanism still matters. A good city is a rich mosaic of dense streets and public places, which results in as much interaction and exchange of ideas as possible. A connected community does wonders for people’s connection to spaces and places, leading to surprisingly effective social surveillance.

To read this article in the SND13 Newspaper click here


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