City Violence and the Poor

Caroline Moser
Caroline Moser Former Brookings Expert

August 1, 2005


In many nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, urban violence has become so ubiquitous that it is now rightly considered to be a major development constraint. Not only does violence affect people’s health and wellbeing, but it also has a devastating impact on the social fabric and economic prospects of entire cities.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the range of researchers, policy makers and practitioners focusing on the issue of violence, fear and insecurity has expanded in the past decade beyond the traditional disciplines — criminology, social work and psychology — and today includes economists, sociologists, political scientists, transport planners, architects and community workers.

Along with this change has come a growing recognition that violence is not merely a problem of individual criminal pathology, but a complex, dynamic and multi-layered phenomenon that shapes people’s lives in multiple ways. Violence forces girls and young women to drop out of night school to avoid streets that are no longer safe after dark. It erodes the assets and livelihood sources of the poor, compromising their ability to improve their life chances. And it instills fear and insecurity into the daily lives of city residents, undermining social trust and increasing the fragmentation of the urban space and the isolation of its people.