Safe City Index

The paper analyses the results of the 2017 index, both overall and by each of the four categories: digital security, health security, infrastructure security, and personal security. Additional insight into the index results and urban safety, more generally, was gained through interviews with experts.

The Safe Cities Index 2017 is a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit sponsored by NEC. The report is based on the second iteration of the index, which ranks 60 cities across 49 indicators covering digital security, health security, infrastructure security and personal security.

The index was devised and constructed by Chris Clague, Stefano Scuratti and Ruth Chiah. The report was written by Sarah Murray and edited by Chris Clague. Findings from the index were supplemented with wide-ranging research and in-depth interviews with experts in the field. Our thanks are due to the following people (listed alphabetically by surname) for their time and insights:

Executive summary

In many respects it’s the very success of cities, in their role as global social and economic hubs, that makes them more vulnerable. As rural residents head for the city in developing countries—which for purposes here we define as non-OECD countries, with the exception of Singapore—and wealthy global capitals draw in international talent, vast demographic shifts are creating cities with previously unimagined population sizes. In 2016, there were 31 megacities—cities with more than 10m inhabitants. This is projected to rise to 41 by 2030.

And size matters. While cities generate economic activity, the security challenges they face expand and intensify as their populations rise. These include growing pressure on housing supply (prompting the spread of slums) and services such as healthcare, transport, and water and power infrastructure.

Man-made risks are also growing. As tragic recent events in European cities such as London, Paris and Barcelona have demonstrated, high profile, wealthy urban centres are becoming targets for terrorist activities. And as income divides widen, growing inequalities can create tensions that contribute to violent outbursts such as the 2011 London riots.

Meanwhile, another major shift has come to the fore: the rapid deployment of digital technologies in pursuit of the so-called “smart city”. 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.

Cities are also defined by the complex, interlinked nature of their systems and infrastructure. This complexity has a bearing on safety. For example, experts are uncovering links between the quality of housing and the health of citizens. And while terrorist attacks are what make headlines, traffic accidents are a greater day-to-day danger for urban residents. Natural forces are also coming in to play as climate change poses new risks to cities, with extreme weather events becoming an even greater threat, as illustrated by the devastation Hurricane Harvey just delivered to Houston, Texas.

The 2017 Safe Cities Index retains the four categories of security from the 2015 version— digital, health, infrastructure and physical. However, we have added six new indicators and expanded the index to cover 60 cities, up from 50 in 2015.

The index’s key findings include the following:

  • As in 2015, Tokyo tops the overall ranking. The Japanese capital’s strongest performance is in the digital security category while it has risen seven places in the health security category since 2015. However, in infrastructure security, it has fallen out of the top ten, to 12th.
  • In many cities, security is falling rather than rising: With two exceptions (Madrid, which is up 13 places and Seoul, up six), cities tend to have fallen in the index since 2015 (for example, New York is down 11 places, 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 rankings 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 rankings 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).


Safe City IndexJakarta number 57 0f 60

Dutch dredging contractors and marine engineering companies Van Oord and Boskalis have been awarded a contract to design and construct the artificial island off the coast of (North) Jakarta. On this (160-hectares sized) artificial island a new city – called Pluit City – will be developed. The contract, valued at EUR 350 million (split equally between the two Dutch companies) was handed to the Van Oord-Boskalis joint venture by Muara Wisesa Samudra. The project aims to relieve pressure on densely populated Jakarta.

Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta has more than 10 million inhabitants, thus placing great pressure on the city’s fragile infrastructure. In fact, weak infrastructure is one of the reasons why Jakarta was ranked at the bottom of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Safe Cities Index 2015. Land reclamation is one of the main strategies to accommodate future generations of Jakartans. Pluit City, which will be built on an artificial island that requires 20 million cubic meters of dredged sand, includes residential and commercial property as well as public facilities, schools, parks, museums and art galleries. Van Oord’s press release mentions that work will commence immediately and is expected to be completed by 2018.

Authorities of Jakarta are increasingly looking to expand into the sea to tackle issues such as flood prevention and urban development. One of the most ambitious projects of the Jakarta and central government is the realization of the USD $40 billion National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) masterplan, better known as the Giant Sea Wall, located in the bay just north of Jakarta. Dutch companies also play a crucial role in the NCICD project. Development of the NCICD project is led by a consortium headed by Witteveen+Bos (main contractor) and Grontmij, with subconsultants Kuiper Compagnons, Deltares, Ecorys and Triple-A.

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