City of fear: feelings of insecurity, daily practices, and public space

A thesis by Edna Pezard-Ramirez

Laboratoire CESSMA, Université Paris Cité

Defended on February 4th, 2022.

The jury:

Laurent FARET, Professor, Université de Paris (director)
Jacques DE MAILLARD, Professor, Université de Versailles (rapporteur)
Jérôme MONNET, Université Gustave Eiffel (rapporteur)
Luisa BRAVO, Universitá degli Studi di Firenze (examinatrice)
Diane DAVIS, Graduate School of Design at Harvard University (examinatrice)
Salomón GONZALEZ, Universidad Autonoma de Mexico (examinateur)


Feelings of insecurity on an urban context are particularly significant due to presence of terrorist attacks, crime, and violence around the world. Urban violence in Latin America has increased exponentially since the 1990s and has given way to research on how to better understand it and combat it. Solutions at city level become more relevant, as urban violence in the region is not an abstract political subject, but rather a problem that deeply touches and transforms everyday life. Such is the case of the city of Monterrey, Mexico. The war against drugs that began in Mexico in 2006 triggered several violent events in territories disputed by drug cartels. Direct aggression ranging from robberies to homicide turned into matters of everyday life, touching the vulnerable sectors of the regio society first and most. While the common narrative is that the city changed overnight, structural violence such as socio-spatial inequalities had gone unattended for decades, and they were the fertile ground for more direct forms of violence. By 2013, some dramatic levels of violence receded and mutated, while other forms of violence have emerged with different actors and levels of intensity. Meanwhile, city dwellers relied on individualistic solutions in the face of ineffective public action.

In this context, public space has also been the object of dispute, the scenario of confrontation, the point of observation and analysis, and the laboratory of potential solutions. Public spaces were at first avoided and then transformed through strategies for fortification or aperture. However, in a unequal society, not everyone has the same power to make their voices heard, nor to distance themselves from public space or transform it. These spatial solutions, while appealing, have a limited scope and at times may even foster inequality. This unequal capacity to influence public policy and to access secure public spaces, along with the lack of effective public action for all social groups, lead to an over-reliance on individual practices and to the normalization of violence, especially in the more vulnerable sectors.

In such an environment, feelings of insecurity and the daily life have often been overlooked since there are larger and “more real” issues at hand that require attention. Nevertheless, these apparently banal elements have an impact. This leads to the core research question of this project: What is the link between feelings of insecurity, public spaces, and daily practices in a context of chronic violence? At the crossroads of geography, urbanism and sociology, this thesis presents a multi-level analysis of feelings of insecurity, public spaces, and daily practices in a context of chronic violence. This research observes how the extraordinary and ordinary incidents become part of normal life in Monterrey, what material and immaterial strategies are put into place, and how socio-spatial inequality plays a role in them.

The playlist

The following are songs chosen for the thesis because they fitted thematically, they are about the territory, period in history or situation in question, they were created by artists from Monterrey or they set the mood for the chapter. Enjoy!

About the author

Edna Pezard-Ramirez is an award-winning urban analyst, consultant, researcher, and author living in France. With a background as an architect-urbanist, she specializes on public spaces, focusing on feelings of insecurity of vulnerable populations. She has collaborated with European and American municipalities, NGOs, researchers, and universities with the goal of improving security in public spaces. Edna is the founder of CITY CITÉ CIUDAD, a consulting agency to help urban actors make public spaces more safe, inclusive, and humane, and an ambassador for entrepreneurship at the Université de Paris. Her work as a researcher and an entrepreneur ranges from high-quality scientific publications to interactive art installations and film. Her work has been published and shared in platforms such as the Fondazione Feltrinelli, Oxford Urbanists, the Journal of Public Spaces, the International CPTED Association, and Réflexions Immobilières.

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