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Is it Safe to Reside in Cities Nowadays?

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Eduardo Almeida
President & CEO Indra Brasil

The globalization of economies brings an enormous amount of opportunities for citizens in today´s world. Countries are becoming digital, common markets are erupting and going through full integration in many different ways, including the elimination of labor barriers, while massive campaigns to attract qualified workers to cities are offers whole broad of incentives to internalize the best minds and qualified personnel.

The beauty behind globalization, industrialization and the advent of digital economies changed for better the life of a significant number of people. Since 1960 Europe´s population are expanding and the signature of Schengen Agreement (1985) liberating free circulation of people, products and services within EU zone was also an incentive for people to live and work in large European cities.

The expansion of population in European Union is similarly happening across a large number of Cities in Asia and in the Americas. According to the United Nations, 66% of world´s population will live in urban areas by 2050. Policy makers and specialists are getting meaningful data and valuable insights to improve citizen´s life, education, healthcare, leisure, work, quality transportation services are among the top-priorities in their agenda.

Those topics are important and relevant, but what about security? Is it a major concern for policy makers? What are the most common threats for a citizen living in a modern city to be aware? Is it safe to live a City today?

Feeling safe is definitely a very personal and unique sensation, this feeling is forged and built during our life based on experiences, knowledge, culture and common sense. Therefore, feeling safe to someone living in Afghanistan is obviously different to someone living in Austria.

This safe sensation can be improved by different ways, let´s consider for a while what are the common threats a citizen can experience while living in a modern city, prior to throwing some light on how to prevent them.

Physical violence can happen in different ways, such as terror, hijacking/kidnapping, riots, turmoil, robbery, accidents, and a weak “rule of law” environment.

Cities like New York, Paris and London count on an incredible number of highly trained police and law enforcement personnel, but they were not sufficient to protect their citizens against the horrible experience and severe consequences of terror attacks.

On the other hand, citizens living in different countries and regions might experience different unsecure feeling and feel vulnerable due to complete absence of the “Rule of Law”. Take, for instance, Mexico City or even Rio de Janeiro, both located in Latin America. Drug cartels dominate part of the cities and are not interested to make easier for local authorities to resume the “Rule of Law”. Furthermore, an incredible number of turmoil and riots began to happen in organized cities in the United States, further increasing the sensation of being vulnerable.

 

Another aspect of safe feeling is definitely associated to the “personal-experience” of using public services, such as transportation, healthcare, education, energy and water services, just to name a feel.

Citizen experience will also vary based on different citizen needs. For instance, if I am a handicap person living in a third floor apartment that requires an elevator to make, I will really want to make sure my energy utility service provider has clearly defined a continuity plan to prevent energy shortages and instabilities as they would compromise my mobility and basic services consumption.

Now, let´s think about a homeless person living on the street. What “City Safe” means to this person? Probably a city where food, water, blankets and possibly shelter accommodation is available during the winter.

Now that we have talked about physical threats and public services availability to improve the feeling of safe and security, let´s review the last but not least threat for people living in large cities: Natural disasters.

This type of issue has its origin in geology and physics and must be of absolute attention of local authorities who have the final responsibility and mechanisms to inform and mitigate natural damages of Earthquakes and other natural disaster through a “Natural Disaster Mitigation Plan”;

Earthquake hazard mitigation should be recognized to be inherently political, involving a tradeoff between uncertain costs and uncertain risks. Earthquake scientists, engineers, and risk managers can make important contributions to the hard problem of allocating limited resources wisely, but government officials and stakeholders must take responsibility for the risks of accidents due to natural events that exceed the adopted safety criteria.” (Why is Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis (PSHA) still used?  Francesco Mulargi, Philip B.Stark.

As we realize today´s cities are growing at unprecedented rate and are the natural home of the world´s population and jobs, we have to start considering what risk are worth taking when deciding to live in a city. It is critical that local authorities and city officials to act together in order to improve city resilience based on a risk assessment to anticipate the most common causes of unsafe feelings.

The outcome of a risk assessment is to share the understanding about city safety and gather efforts together to address these identified risks, making the city safer and better to everyone.

Today´s digital technologies are of amazing help to support data collection from new sources,  data interpretation based on advanced analytics, automation and machine learning to improve citizen´s services, allowing more personalized products to be developed and made available.

So, is it safe to reside in Cities nowadays?

To answer this question it is important to understand the different risks categories, probabilities of happening and, more important, how local authorities manage these risks and support citizens to prevent from incurring on them.

Considering there is no risk-free society and total safe is utopia, what are the risks am I willing to take to have a better job, high quality education and a good work-life balance?

I hope that these reflections can help to establish a solid and conscious footprint in a City, preventing adversities and avoid feeling vulnerable; by doing so, we are also helping to build better Cities for future generations.