Global Urban Research Unit

Cities, Security & Vulnerability

Cities, Security and Vulnerability


This theme brings together a wide range of innovative and interdisciplinary research concerned with the politics of risk, security and vulnerability in cities across the world.


Our starting point is to look at contemporary cities as complex spaces and systems. In cities, environmental, social, political, technological, biological and 'natural' risks are managed, distributed, and represented. This is often in biased and contested ways.

The processes sustaining cities include the:

  • construction of housing
  • sourcing of food, water and energy
  • uneven struggles over the planning and management of resources

These processes reshape 'natural' ecologies at international scales. They cause a complex politics of risk, security and vulnerability.

In a rapidly urbanising world, many of the world's technological, biological, social and ecological threats (such as viruses, resource shortages, organised violence) operate transnationally and locally. They are also transmitted through the infrastructures and circulations sustaining urban life. These circulations blur separations of the 'local' and 'global', 'urban' and 'rural', or 'human' and 'non-human'.

Introducing research in this theme

This theme works to overcome traditional disciplinary divides between discussions of aspects of risk and security:

  • social
  • biological
  • political
  • natural
  • technological

In achieving this, the theme is developing powerful new analyses of the importance of cities and urbanisation to our world.

Work in this theme offers timely interventions for a rapidly urbanising world by:

  • drawing on the latest social and political theory
  • building state-of-the-art empirical research projects
  • linking directly to a wide range of international policy debates

There are many debates about the securitisation of urban life and the quest to build resilience into cities in the face of resource crises, climate change, and the threats of political violence.

Through this theme we aim to develop critical, innovative and topical books, papers and projects. These feed directly into policy-relevant debates about the challenges of forging resilient urban spaces in equitable and just ways.

Current Work

Find out about our current work in this wide-ranging theme.

Security, vulnerability and resilience in Global South Cities

This is a large body of research across the cities of the Global South. It addresses the shaping of informal cities by their residents, and the vulnerabilities experienced by such residents to poverty. These include health problems, infrastructural marginalisation, as well as erasure, eviction and homelessness.

Research here is also exploring the ways in which fast-growing informal settlements, as well as refugee settlements, are often vulnerable to extreme environmental risks as well as organised, drug-related and political violence. The emphasis here is on the extraordinary resilience of many informal settlements, and their communities, in the face of extreme insecurities.

Cities and nation building

This research addresses the intersections of architecture, planning and nation building, with a particular interest in Turkey. Research here is exploring how the political and spatial aspects of nation building play out at various scales in architectural, symbolic and military ways.

Science, bio-security and cities

Research into environmental problems and controversies surrounding the regulation of animal production and processing as ‘vital systems’, ‘critical infrastructure’ or ‘metabolic infrastructure’ sustaining urbanised societies. 

Cities and food security

Research connecting broader strategic concerns about urban food security to the social inequalities related to the food system.

Cities and energy security

Policy-relevant research on the intersections of energy security and urban built form in British cities. 

Security and the vertical view

Work on urban theories and practices in the post-war period. It addresses issues of atmospheric security, thought of in the broadest sense. This work is linked to the history of aerial views of cities and the development of imaging technologies, the vertical bombing of urban areas, and the recent proliferation of unmanned surveillance and military drones.

The ‘new military urbanism'

This is critical research on the urbanisation of state and military security agendas. This is associated with the ‘war on terror’, the conceptualisation of ‘assymetric’ warfare and the propagation of violence against and through systems of urban infrastructure.

Related to this are projects addressing local government efforts at critical infrastructure planning and emergency preparedness planning. 


Find out about what we're currently working on, and projects we've completed.


Find out which members of staff are involved in this research theme.

Professor Roger Burrows
Professor of Cities

Telephone: +44(0)191 208 6070

Dr Andrew Donaldson
Senior Lecturer and Director of Postgraduate Research

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5806

Professor Stephen Graham
Prof of Cities & Society

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 8579

Dr Peter Kellett
Senior Lecturer in Architecture

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 6023

Dr Zeynep Kezer
Senior Lecturer

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 6030

Dr Jane Midgley
Senior Lecturer / Degree Programme Director MSc Town Planning

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 6807

Dr Suzanne Speak
Degree Programme Director MSc International Spatial Planning

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5646