In an age where community involvement and partnership with civil society are increasingly being recognised as indispensable, there is clearly a growing potential for cooperative development and renewal worldwide. ~ Kofi Annan.
Safe cities and the role of the community need to be seen in the overall backdrop of the evolution of society itself. Society has evolved from what the famous French sociologist Emile Durkheim called “mechanical solidarity” to “organic solidarity”. While mechanical solidarity refers to the simple and homogenous character of the society, organic solidarity reflects the more formal and complex societies that emerged after industrialisation. The concept of safe cities has to be seen in light of this changing nature of societies. The safety concerns of the community have been changing with overall societal growth in all its multi-dimensional aspects.
Theoretically speaking, there is a symbiotic relationship between safe cities and the community. Whenever we talk about a safe city we are consciously or unconsciously referring to the community. There are two schools of thought on the role of community in the overall safety of the city. One looks at the community and its safety as two distinct identities where the former has no role in the later. The other considers the role of the community as critical in securing cities. Sociologically speaking, the community cannot be relegated to the background while talking about a city’s safety. After all, a city is made of the people who live or work in it. Its every dimension revolves around the community.
Let’s talk about two critical areas of safety in the cities.
It essentially refers to the overall safety of the inhabited surroundings in a particular geographical area. This aspect of safety, at a macro level, refers to broad parameters of security where the participation of the larger community – as a whole – will be very crucial. For example, in every metropolitan city where clusters of houses are located, the access control of the area has to be regulated. Access regulation requires investment into technological infrastructure or human resource mobilisation to ensure that only authorised persons gain entry into a living complex.
This further requires the active participation and broad consensus of the community with regard to fundamental principles. It could also require some financial contribution in mobilising resources. This dimension of community participation is performed in the city today by registered housing societies. The macro role of the community takes care of the broader dimensions of safety that affects it as a whole. The presence of security guards manning access to colonies with the help of improved technological infrastructure is a very good example of community participation in the management of safety in the overall surroundings.
Security inside houses
Cities also reflect their residents’ vulnerabilities to crime and insecurity due to the inadequacies of basic safety measures inside houses. While policing the street is the sole responsibility of the territorial police, policing inside homes is the exclusive responsibility of the occupant. Several crimes inside houses have occurred due to the absence of certain basic safety gadgets in the house or a sheer casual approach. Let us always remember that crime is often committed by criminals taking advantage of security lapses committed by residents. These could be linked to general or individual dimensions of security – some of which can be addressed by installation of basic safety gadgets inside homes like a burglar’s alarm, magic eyes or a neighbourhood alarm, to name a few. It also refers to taking some basic precautions in day-to-day life to prevent crime.
Thus, the community has a very critical role to play in shaping the operational dimensions of the safety network of a city in a fast-changing world. The World Health Organization’s International Safe Community Programme promotes safety in communities throughout the world. The WHO International Safe Communities’ Model recognises safety as a “universal concern and responsibility for all” and has always promoted healthy partnerships with local communities to actively promote safety and prevent various forms of injury. The objective of global peace begins with safety and security at the local level. The Dalai Lama has rightly said that “When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities as well”.