Today, more than two-thirds of the European population lives in urban areas and this trend continues to grow. Not only does a majority of the population live in cities, but cities are also expected to play a key role in the economic and social development of the European Union. Cities are places where both problems concentrate and solutions are found; for this reason, they deserve special attention as laboratories for addressing urban challenges and identifying best practises to contribute to the European strategy for sustainable local development.
Security is one of the challenges cities have to tackle. The European Agenda on Security launched in 2015, strengthened the tools that the EU provides to national law enforcement authorities to fight terrorism, organised crime and cybercrime, based on shared principles such as compliance with fundamental rights, transparency, accountability, democratic control, and application and implementation of existing EU legal instruments.
The strong links between EU external and internal security and their impacts at regional and local level make urban security still a relevant political issue as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown. In addition, urban security is a complex and multi-faceted concept that covers various forms of threats and risks as well as citizens’ perceptions. Both these dimensions – actual and perceived risks – need to be taken into account by the European, regional and local authorities in order to contribute to improve the quality of life in urban areas.
The issue of security in cities is high on the EU political agenda and European actions in this field are quite recent. One of the most remarkable initiatives is the Urban Agenda for the EU launched in May 2016 with the Pact of Amsterdam. The need for an EU Agenda is rooted in the increasing recognition that cities face specific challenges such as urban poverty, poor air quality, affordable housings, and they cannot be left alone. By focusing on the three pillars of EU policy-making and implementation (Better regulation, Better funding, Better knowledge), the Agenda provides a new multi-level working method promoting better cooperation among the Member States, cities, the European Commission and other stakeholders in order to stimulate growth, liveability and innovation in the European cities, regardless of their dimension. The relevance of the Agenda lies on the integrated approach but also on the mechanism of the Thematic Partnership recognised as the main instrument to contribute to the concrete implementation of EU and national policies.
One of the priority themes that has been identified to work on through a Thematic Partnership is that of security in public space, which represents a critical aspect for a city and its citizens. This is particularly relevant for local authorities and all local stakeholders with responsibilities for security matters as it will help understand how to protect public spaces while reinforcing social cohesion, inclusion and a feeling of security and resilience between citizens. The Partnership Security in Public Spaces established in 2019 and coordinated by the city of Nice, provides a remarkable contribution to the progress of the Urban Agenda for the EU and for the progress in the policies to be taken. The Orientation paper presented in May 2019 and the new Action Plan released in November 2020 contain concrete measures on how to face global and local challenges to create safer cities and public spaces and to bring concrete European added value.
At the local level, security is very much interlinked with many societal issues and public policies in different domains: city resilience, mobility, urban planning, social cohesion, liveability and quality of life, attractiveness, well-being, health, and leisure. Large cities have to cope with criminality activities often enhanced by concentrated societal issues. New challenges also emerge and evolve rapidly because of external factors and/or phenomena. An example is the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak and how it has affected (and will affect) the perception and usage of public space by citizens and communities.
Until recently, different security threats in an urban environment have been considered separately. Many cities are now considering all these issues together to find more suitable and efficient solutions for optimizing resources and reducing potential risks. More coordinated measures aimed at protecting citizens, public spaces and assets within urban spaces from human and natural threats are needed. The involvement of citizens in this process is essential to improve the security and resilience of urban spaces, anchoring security as a fundamental pillar of the smart city.