Improving safety is a key outcome of the South African policy on upgrading informal settlements. Yet little is known about the impact urban upgrading has on improving safety and reducing violence in these settlements.
In this article, Dr Mercy Brown-Luthango from the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town shares preliminary findings from a research project that looks at the effectiveness of different urban upgrading approaches with regards to safety.
Safety is an issue which occupies the minds of most South Africans on a daily basis. South Africa is one of the most violent countries in the world with a death rate of 157.8 per 100 000 population which is considerably higher than the average rate of 139.5 per 100 000 population for the African continent and nearly double the global average of 86.9 per 100 000 population .
Violence and crime are spatially distributed with violent crime often concentrated in poorer, underdeveloped parts of the city. The relationship between violence and the nature and quality of the physical environment is well acknowledged.
Safety needs to be priority of urban upgrading – not a coincidence
A research report released by the World Bank in 2010 on violence in cities argues that the physical attributes of poor living environments in the form of inadequate infrastructure and services do not only create opportunities for violence, but can also heighten frustration and a sense of exclusion which might find expression in violent acts .
A 2011 UN Habitat report “Building Urban Safety through Slum Upgrading”  argues that informal settlement dwellers are more vulnerable to crime and violence and are often the main victims and perpetrators of violent crime. The physical upgrading of informal settlements is proposed as a tool to improve the quality of life of residents and to address growing violence and insecurity in such settlements.
The report further states that violence prevention and improving the safety of informal settlement dwellers should be one of the most important priorities of an upgrading intervention rather than just an “incidental consequence” of upgrading projects. Yet globally, only very few cities have a coherent and focused violence prevention strategy as part of their urban upgrading programmes. Even in cases where improvements in safety have been observed, this has been an unexpected outcome of the programme.
Assessing the impact of urban settlement upgrading on safety
South African upgrading policy clearly identifies the improvement of health and safety as an important outcome of an upgrading intervention. However, it is not clear whether departments responsible for upgrading of informal settlements systematically monitor the achievement of these outcomes. Little is also known about the impact and effectiveness of different upgrading approaches in terms of violence reduction and improvement of safety.
Given the gaps in the knowledge base regarding upgrading and its relationship to safety, a study currently being conducted by the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town is trying to assess the effectiveness of upgrading of informal settlements as a tool to improve safety and to compare the violence reduction and safety outcomes in different types of upgrading projects.
Read the full article on SaferSpaces.