The contemporary security gap is inextricably linked to notions of geography. Perceptions of space and place underlie security narratives and security practices. The notion of national security, for example, is all about the concept of territory and borders. At the same time, an understanding of the security gap significantly changes the old geographies and produces new ways of seeing the world in spatial terms.

Recent decades have witnessed a dramatic increase in urbanisation – for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. Rapid urbanisation is often attributed to globalisation – the pull of new industrial jobs in cities as well as losses of livelihood from economic liberalisation. But another factor is contemporary conflict; cities have been swelled by people forced to leave their homes in war. Kabul, for example, has increased from less than a million in 1979 to 3.45 million to-day (Central Statistics Office Afghanistan 1981; USAID 2009). This dramatic growth in cities has changed their nature in fundamental ways, particularly assumptions about the cosmopolitan or multi-cultural character of cities. Cities can be studied as prime examples of the reconfiguration of social, political and human geographies through the contemporary security gap. Above and beyond, they are particularly interesting hot spots of contemporary insecurity dynamics on the one side, as well as cauldrons of creativity and innovation, on the other (e.g. Landry 2008).

This component of our research programme explores two questions:

1. Is the growth and changing composition of cities a consequence and/ or cause of insecurity?

In answering this question we will focus on two issues. One is the way in which population displacement during conflict has led to the growth of cities and to ethnic or religious or tribal cleavages within cities. The other is the way in which the city may produce insecurity as a consequence of factors like unemployment, crime, or the spread of reinvented traditions or exclusivist ideologies.

2. What are the security strategies employed by city administrations or local communities?

We are interested in systematically mapping and assessing urban strategies that are applied in order to close the security gap. Obvious examples of these strategies are the erection of walls, as seen in Jerusalem or Belfast; the establishment of security zones, as seen in Baghdad; surveillance measures through CCTV cameras in London; or the compartmentalisation of cities into ‘cages’, which Plöger (2007) describes for the Peruvian capital Lima. A less obvious example are the ‘cultural engineering’ strategies that were applied in the Colombian cities of Bogota and Medellin in the 1990s (e.g. Gutierrez Sanin et al 2009); the strategy of the Mayor of Medellin, Sergio Fajardo, was to assemble a set of extraordinarily designed public buildings in some of the most critically insecure places in his city.

Finally, in so-called unregulated areas, local communities may turn to informal mechanisms. ‘Protection’ by criminal gangs or tribal leaders is one option. Others may be based on neighbourhood solidarity. This component will make us of relevant indicators in the data base and focus on in-depth empirical analysis of three case studies: Kabul, Basra, London.