Cities in the Age of Insecurity: A Recap

by Anjali Bean

IHC Global was pleased to be part of a panel on “Cities in the Age of Insecurity.”  The event was hosted by the Atlantic Council at their headquarters, in partnership with the Atlantic Council, Woodrow Wilson Center, the US National Committee for Habitat III, and IHC Global.  It was  part of a series of events  to engage  the US audience in the upcoming Habitat III conference in October.  The well attended event featured representatives, the Atlantic Council, the US State Department and the Prevention Project as well as IHC Global each giving their perspective on insecurity in cities – the drivers and the solutions.

Opening remarks of the panel were given by Dr. Nancy Stetson, the US Special Representative for Habitat III at the US Department of State. She opened the panel noting that while cities and urbanization have not historically been considered from a foreign policy perspective, national security experts are starting to view traditional “development” issues from a security lens. Urbanization can be a threat multiplier or an agent of stabilization, depending on how it progresses, and security leaders are beginning to understand this and the importance of viewing issues through an urban frame.

Dr. Stetson was optimistic of the opportunities that Habitat III presents, and hopes that inclusion at all levels remains a priority throughout the process. She warned that success cannot come exclusively from the top down and that the New Urban Agenda, which is an important expected outcome of Habitat III, must be focused on actionable implementation where national governments marshal resources and enable sub-national and local leadership.

There followed a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Peter Engelke, a Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. The panel included: IHC CEO Dr. Judith Hermanson; Dr. Ian Klaus, Senior Advisor for Global Cities, US Department of State; and Eric Rosand, Director, Prevention Project.

The three speakers came from diverse backgrounds reflecting the complex and interrelated aspects of urban security. Dr. Klaus spoke from a national government perspective, highlighting the steps the State Department is making to address cities as a unit for the first time as they become increasing important actors on the global stage. He noted that in order for the State Department to successfully address the issue of urbanization, there has to be high level leadership well as an effort to change the culture of work at every level within the agency. To engage with cities, there is an inherent challenge to balance official diplomatic relationships with countries, while also trying to develop ties at the sub-national level and deepening understanding of their pivotal role.

Dr. Hermanson spoke about security, as it might be understood from the personal and community level, noting that for the 1 billion living in informal settlements and slums and without secure tenure, employment opportunities or livelihoods, are also the most vulnerable to national upheavals, climate change risks, and other types of violence. She stressed the importance of spatial, economic and social inclusion, leading to a deeper psychological sense of inclusion, as important aspects of addressing insecurity in cities as well as increasing agency of those most marginalized.  There is no magic bullet, but Goal 11 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, focused on cities, and Habitat III together represent opportunities for countries and cities to unharness community will and to direct resources strategically to create more inclusive secure cities for all residents. You can view her full statement here.

Mr. Rosland addressed urban security from his long experience working to combat violent extremism throughout the world. He noted that the growth of terrorism is more local than ever, and that cities represent the place where individuals choose or deny the path to violence. He spoke about the need to increase opportunities for non-state actors to engage in security-focused discussions, noting the success of the State Department’s Strong Cities Network that supports city-level peer-to-peer learning to combat violent extremism.  He noted also that availability of community services and other tangible forms of engagement between national and local levels can be a very important factor in enhancing security and preventing extremism.

All three panelists stressed the need for local-level participation, at the community level, city and municipal level. , They also noted that financing remains a very difficult challenge, and in order for cities to meaningfully participate, new funding mechanisms must be developed and directed to city governments, and investment in equitable development must be viewed as a mutually beneficial exercise.

In the lively discussion that followed the panel discussion, participants raised various issues concerning the role of secondary cities, public diplomacy, climate resilience, and new financing mechanisms among others.