Urbanization and Urban Spaces

Arguments focusing on the link between urban space or urbanization and violence are rather unclear in their underlying variables: does urban space produce violence per se, but only in larger cities or even megacities? Does it depend on urbanization as a process (on its speed or on its modality) or on its results? Is violence the effect of high population density, or of a particular product (e.g. slums) of a specific mode of urbanization (perhaps without industrialization), or of particular slums or even only slums if certain other characteristics are also present?

For a long time, nobody would have doubted that the level of criminal violence was significantly higher in Latin American cities than in rural areas. More recently, however, violence has been migrating from urban to rural areas. In 2011 in El Salvador, for example, 48 % of all homicides took place in rural areas.27 At the same time, not every city in Latin America is marked by high levels of criminal violence. Cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, at least, disprove the hypothesis that urbanization necessarily leads to increasing violence. In contrast, the hypothesis that urbanization coupled with a lack of industrialization leads to violence is more con- vincing.28 However, cities like Managua, Cairo,29 and some sub-Saharan African cities raise doubts about this argument: Managua has experienced the highest rate of urbanization in Central America. At the same time, its homicide rate is the lowest. Moreover, these cities are counter-examples that disprove the argument that shantytowns arising during processes of urbanization without industrialization will lead to increasing levels of violence. Finally, empirical evidence suggests that in Central America, urbanization is even increasing much faster than violence. That means that “no hay una relacion mecanica entre los dos variables”.30 The most striking theoretical objection brought into the discussion by the sociology of space is the argument that urban spaces only produce violence if these spaces are linked to socio-economic processes of social stratification.31 Again, this brings up the arguments about those factors which have already been disproved above.

Urbanization then cannot be regarded as a proper independent variable, because violent actors do not become violent because they live in slums but because these actors are exposed to factors that bring them into slums and provoke them to commit violence. Furthermore, inhabitants of slums do not resort to violence anywhere or at any time, but only under certain conditions. In other words, there may be structural factors even in slums that are able to prevent outbreaks of violence.

In summary, both conceptual and empirical evidence raises serious doubts about the urbanization of urban spaces being an explanatory causal factor for violence.

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