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Anxious urbanism

One of the first things that I noticed when I visited Rio de Janeiro a few years ago was the clear fixation on safety and security. There are gates and cameras everywhere. And the guidance you tend to receive from the locals usually resolves around how to stay safe. Don’t wander around at night. Be careful when you take out your phone. Be mindful of certain areas. You know, those sorts of things.

Of course, you never really know how dangerous a city is because it’s one of those things that’s impractical to test. You’re not going to wander around dark places just to see what the probability of being robbed is. The more sensible thing to do is simply believe what people are telling you and you observe the cues scattered around the built environment.

The result is a general sense of anxiety. You’re not quite sure if all the gates and cameras are truly necessary, but their mere presence makes you believe that they might be. I mean, why else would they be so pervasive? Or, could it be that people are overshooting with their investments in safety and security because, well, fear and paranoia are strong motivators?

I was reminded of all of this as I read through Ed Chartlon’s recent book review of, Panic City: Crime and Fear Industries in Johannesburg. The title of his review is Anxious Urbanisms, and I think that’s a good way of describing some of these phenomenons. It’s an urbanism of uncertainty. I haven’t read the book (yet), but it’s an interesting topic.

So I will leave you all with this excerpt from the review:

Ultimately, what we might take from Panic City, then, is less a comprehensive sociology of crime in the city and more a method of affective analysis. What the book provides is a sense of the ways in which the emotional sphere organises space, how feelings like anxiety or fear or panic, currently widely distributed across the world, materialise themselves, architecturally and politically. If immunity is anything like security, Murray offers us a cautionary tale. For wherever uncertainty thrives, so does the tendency towards paranoid thinking—which is to say, a contagion of a different sort, one that licences regimes of suspicion, self-protection and individual security, and all at the eventual cost of collective wellbeing and interdependence. 

1 Comment so far

  1. Where ever you find gross inequalities between the have and the have nots you will find heightened anxiety. The wealthy want to cling on to their wealth at the expense of social justice and a more just society. By hiding behind high walls and security guards they can isolate themselves and thus ignore the world around them. In reality, it is probably the poorest who are at greater risk of both physical and sexual violence and an article on that would be interesting.


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