Risk to personal safety in Johannesburg highlighted in global Safe Cities report

Johannesburg has scored 50 in a ranking of 60 cities around the world for 2017‚ which measures digital security‚ health security‚ infrastructure security and personal security. The situation is worsening – this ranking is down nine places from the 2015 Index.

The Safe Cities Index 2017‚ a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit‚ notes: “While the human toll of crime‚ violence‚ and vandalism is heavy‚ it’s worth noting that the economic toll is significant‚ too. Moreover‚ the two factors are part of a negative feedback loop‚ as physical damage and lost revenue leave cities with even fewer resources with which to tackle violence and crime.”

High levels of urban crime also lead to increases in the cost of living for residents‚ as this pushes up the prices of home insurance‚ it states. Tenants and homeowners feel the need to install and maintain security lights‚ fences and sophisticated security devices such as security cameras and CCTV.

“While such costs affect individual urban residents‚ ultimately they disadvantage entire cities‚ some of which may not be able to attract skilled workers and‚ as a result‚ may lower their ability to secure investment from businesses.

“This is a challenge facing Johannesburg‚ which ranks 54th in the personal security category of the index.”

The index notes that according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2015–2016‚ crime and theft are seen as highly problematic when it comes to doing business in Johannesburg. In the report‚ the two issues ranked sixth among the 16 most problematic factors for doing business in South Africa. In Switzerland and Singapore‚ they ranked second to last.

Metros must do more to address crime‚ the Safe Cities Index states.

“Beyond their responsibility to urban residents . . . municipal authorities have other incentives to combat urban crime and violence – the need for healthy tax revenue streams and the pressure to maintain the competitiveness of the city.”

Nathalie Alvarado‚ citizen security lead specialist‚ Inter-American Development Bank‚ was quoted in the report as stating the economic cost of crime occurs not only in expenditure on police forces and judicial systems but also in terms of revenues not earned‚ such as the foregone income of working-age people who were murdered or are imprisoned and cannot contribute to the economy‚ and the money spent by business in security.

Most damaging‚ Alvarado says‚ is the impact on young people. “They are the future of these countries‚” she says. “So for us crime and violence are more than security concerns – they are development challenges.”

CCTV continues to prove a powerful crime-prevention tool for many cities‚ the Index report notes.

“When CCTV or webcams are matched with artificial intelligence technologies such as facial recognition‚ gait analysis and behaviour detection‚ criminal behaviour or unusual activity can be detected and reported as it happens‚ allowing cities to quickly deploy an emergency response‚” it adds.

In addition to technology‚ design plays a role in urban security.

The index quotes Michael Nutter‚ professor of professional practice in urban and public affairs‚ Columbia University‚ who boils it down to three Rs – restaurants‚ retail and residential.

“You can make an area safer by animating it with people‚ with businesses and with activity‚” Nutter says. “When you do that and add something that often goes unnoticed – like good lighting – it is critical to public safety.”

Sometimes‚ even the most violent‚ crime-ridden cities can turn things around with a combination of strategies‚ the Index states. “Often cited in this respect is Medellín‚ Colombia‚ which supplemented counter-crime and counter-narcotics strategies with efforts to promote social cohesion and investments in urban renewal‚ including public transport‚ libraries and community centres.”

The report also highlights a need for city planners to address the potential risks stemming from the rapid deployment of digital technologies in pursuit of “smart cities”.

“The technologies no doubt bring benefits. As part of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies‚ sensors collect and wirelessly transmit data from physical objects‚ delivering new insights into city operations and permitting remote and more efficient management of infrastructure and services.

Connecting apartments and office buildings to the electricity grid via smart meters‚ for example‚ delivers energy efficiency and cost savings.

And with the spread of closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) and webcams around cities‚ technologies such as artificial intelligence and data analytics can greatly enhance the capabilities of law enforcement agencies to combat urban crime and terrorism.

“Yet the rush to embrace smart city technologies also creates vulnerabilities if investments in digital technologies are not accompanied by commensurate investments in cyber security.

Wealthy cities are making investments‚ albeit to varying degrees‚ but security often comes lower on the list of spending priorities for cities with already stretched finances.

“The consequences of neglecting cyber security could be dire. For example‚ if hackers were to shut down the power supply‚ an entire city would be left in chaos. This prospect is something city officials now need to plan against.”

The Index’s key findings:

– Overall‚ the ten cities that scored the best in 2017 are Tokyo (also in 2015)‚ Singapore‚ Osaka‚ Toronto‚ Melbourne‚ Amsterdam‚ Sydney‚ Stockholm‚ Hong Kong and Zurich.

– In 2017 only one city in the developing world cracks the top half of the index‚ Buenos Aires‚ which places 29th‚ between two Middle Eastern cities‚ Abu Dhabi (28th) and Doha (30th).

– In many cities‚ security is falling rather than rising: With two exceptions (Madrid‚ which is up 13 points and Seoul‚ up six)‚ cities tend to have fallen in the index since 2015 (for example‚ New York is down 11‚ Lima is down 13‚ Johannesburg is down nine‚ Ho Chi Minh City is down ten and Jakarta is down 13).

– Asian and European cities remain at the top of the index: Of the cities in the top ten positions in the overall index‚ four are East Asian cities (Tokyo‚ Singapore‚ Osaka and Hong Kong)‚ while three (Amsterdam‚ Stockholm and Zurich) are European.

– Asia and the Middle East and Africa dominate the bottom of the index: Dhaka‚ Yangon and Karachi are at the bottom of the list. Of the ten cities at the bottom of the overall index‚ three are in South-east Asia (Manila‚ Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta)‚ two are in South Asia (Dhaka and Karachi) and two are in the Middle East and Africa (Cairo and Tehran).

– Security remains closely linked to wealth but the scores of high-income cities are falling: While cities in developed economies dominate the top half of the index (with the lower half dominated by cities in poorer countries)‚ of the 14 cities in high-income countries‚ the security scores of ten have fallen since 2015.

– Income is not the only factor governing city performance on security: Most of the cities in the top ten of the index are high income or upper middle-income cities. However‚ two high-income cities in the Middle East (Jeddah and Riyadh) fall below position 40 in the index.

– America’s failing infrastructure is reflected in its cities’ rankings: No US city makes it into the top ten in this category and only San Francisco appears in the top 20. The top ten cities in this category are either in Europe (Madrid‚ Barcelona‚ Stockholm‚ Amsterdam and Zurich) or Asia-Pacific (Singapore‚ Wellington‚ Hong Kong‚ Melbourne and Sydney).

– However‚ the US performs well in digital security: Of the cities in the top ten in this category‚ four are North American (Chicago‚ San Francisco‚ New York and Dallas).