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“Fragile cities” plagued by violence, unemployment, lack of education

The New York City subway, circa 1972, when graffiti was everywhere and crime rampant. The city's revitalization shows that "fragile" cities can turn themselves around. (Erik Calonius/US National Archives)

Unemployed youth. Lack of education. Social tension. Violence. These are among the characteristics of “fragile cities” overrun with crime and gangs, making them difficult to govern, Robert Muggah writes in Foreign Affairs.

Muggah cites a variety of factors for the trend. “Turbo-urbanization” — meteoric population surge over a short period — is a contributor. An example is Karachi, which grew from a half million people in 1947 to 21 million today. While the port city plays a key economic role for Pakistan, it’s also among the world’s most violent metropolises. Other fragile cities include Acapulco, Mexico; Maceió, Brazil; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Lagos, Nigeria.

Some once-fragile cities, such as Rio de Janeiro; Ciudad Juárez, Mexico; Medellín, Colombia and New York, turned themselves around through new approaches to policing and other strategies, the article says. “The good news is that city fragility is not immutable; it can be reversed with time and investment,” Muggah writes. The author is research director at the Igarapé Institute in Brazil and director of research and policy at the SecDev Foundation in Canada.

Foreign Affairs

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