Urban Conflict and Communication

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Urban Conflict and Communication


Communication in urban cities is essential for conflict resolution. Extreme diversity epitomizes city life, in turn leading to conflict. The key to management of this conflict is getting all parties to understand that their differences can help lead each other to creative solutions to common conflicts. Social cohesion and social control are important for neighborhood stability and growth. Programs that bring neighbors together are essential in any urban city wishing to effectively manage conflict. Further research on innovative methods to encourage communication and non-violent resolutions to conflict is essential.

Urban Conflict and Communication

Conflict and city life are eternally linked. Conflict endures in urban areas because many people live close together in a small area. Not everyone will be happy with the things that everyone else does, which leads to conflict. For example, apartments are designed to fit a large number or families into a small space with parking nearby. When one particular apartment takes all of the close parking spaces, despite knowing about the disability of another resident that leads to conflict between residents (Hamelink, 2008, p. 291).

As far back as the Middle Ages, when cities were growing rapidly, they were locations of economic and political conflict. During this time artisan guilds developed guild houses and town halls. Conflicts arose over the claims of the aristocracy made against claims of the artisans. Many conflicts also arose against immigrants or other minorities, such as the Jews in Rome who were confined to ghettos with severe constraints on their activities (Hamelink, 2008, p. 291-292). These large scale conflicts can be seen in developing countries today. For example, in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2006, there were violent conflicts in the slum of Mathare by two gangs who sought control over the illegal brewing market. More than ten people died, thousands were displaced from their homes, and at least 600 homes were burned (Gettleman, 2006, para. 1-15).

Hamelink (2008) believes that cities are important and in the years to come over seventy percent of the populations will live in large urban cities. People will need to find a way to live together and resolve conflicts that arise. Quality of life in these cities will be determined by how well city dwellers are able to address their conflicts. Communication is important in addressing conflict between parties. Cities are also the key in globalization and hubs for all types of services, from legal assistance and advertising to architecture and cultural arts (p. 293).

Hamelink (2008) provides eight types of conflict that directly affect cities. These are: urban warfare, security, resources, youth, religion, ethnicity, segregation, and environment. Urban warfare comes from the unrest associated with diverse peoples coming into close contact with each other. Security involves providing the cities with a safe environment for all peoples. However measures such as street surveillance and curtailment of public liberties threatens urban life. Violent conflict over available resources will always be a danger (p. 294-296). For instance, in poor countries, there are conflicts among cities for access to resources such as water, electricity and food (Hamelink, 2008, p. 294). As the youth population in cities increases, so does the potential for conflict as poverty increases. Many cities are facing potential religious conflicts with the influx of immigrants of varying religions. Ethnic diversity is important to city life but it can also lead to conflict from real or perceived forms of discrimination. Many cities face the problem of the dual city, where one area is a safe haven for those with money, while poverty reigns a short distance away with city administration taking no action to make the area safe. Cities tend to develop at the expense of the natural environment. This has led to conflicts over economic growth and ecological safety (Hamelink, 2008, p. 295-296).

Sassen (2012) supports the idea of cities being places of great complexity and diversity. Inclusion of diverse groups and causes strengthens basic civil capabilities. New norms and identities can be constructed in cities (p. 87). Large urban service providers have to treat their members equally in order to function efficiently. For instance, for public transit, a system that checked citizenship status of all riders would be unfeasible and render the service ineffective for scheduled service. Rather the minimalist rule that applies is that as long as a person buys a ticket they can ride, regardless of any other factors, including religion and nationality. This eliminates any type of conflict that might arise from differences in riders. Major challenges facing cities, such as climate change and global wars, threaten city life but also bring diverse groups together for a common cause (Sassen, 2012, p. 93).

The ethnic diversity of a neighborhood does not always present a problem for the social cohesiveness of the neighborhood. Negative stereotypes between ethnic groups can threaten the quality of life in ethnically diverse neighborhoods though. Neighborhood projects aimed at improving communications between the people living there can help to reduce prejudice and discrimination. It can also provide residents with a sense of belonging and encourage them to communicate with each other to resolve conflicts rather than having to involve outside parties such as the police. This can provide long term cohesion between the persons in a neighborhood and reduce overall conflict within the neighborhood (Ufkes, Otten, van der Zee, & Giebels, 2012, p. 303).

Not all conflict is negative. All change involves some type of conflict. Identifying creative methods of conflict management to prevent escalation of violent levels needs to be the focus. Communication is the key to preventing the escalation of conflict (Hamelink, 2008, p. 296). “Knowing your neighbors has long been recognized as a means of improving the safety, quality, financial well-being, and even the healthiness of residential neighborhoods” (Linkhart, 2010, p. 31). In the 1970s, neighborhood organizing began as a way to encourage residents to band together to protect the quality of their areas. A great example of block organization took place in the city of Englewood, Colorado in 1995. A single person, Officer Nancy Peterson was responsible for organizing the entire city. She began organizing blocks by going door to door on every block until she found a block captain on that block and then moved on to the next one. National Night Out parties got people out of their homes and talking to others in their neighborhoods. People were talking to each other and working out their differences (Linkhart, 2010, p. 31-32).

Safety benefits can also be seen in neighborhood block programs. For instance, a woman who had been abused by her husband, found that by forming relationships with her neighbors, she had the support system she need in order to leave her abusive husband (Linkhart, 2010, p. 32). People getting to know each other in neighborhoods provides opportunities to solve common problems and provides a decrease in dependence on the government. Social cohesion and local social control are critical in controlling violence and addressing issues such as neighborhood conflict. Once connected, neighbors talk about their values, needs and skills that could be shared, thus forming a community. When people talk to each other, they gain the tools to resolve conflict without relying on government services that should be focusing on major issues (Linkhart, 2010, p. 34-35).

Communication between residents in urban cities is essential in managing conflicts. Creative solutions such as block organization are desperately needed to improve neighborhood conditions and encourage collaboration among residents in dealing with conflicts. Future research will be needed to provide further innovations to cities that encourage communication and non-violent resolutions to conflict among residents and other neighborhoods (Hamelink, 2008, p. 300).


Gettleman, J. (2006, Nov. 10). Chased by Gang Violence, Residents Flee Kenyan Slum. The New York Times. Retrieved November 22, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/10/world/africa/10kenya.html?_r=0

Hamelink, C. J. (2008). Urban Conflict and Communication, 70(3-4), 291-301. DOI: 10.1177/1748048508089953

Linkhart, D. (2009). Block building: Cure for crime, conflicts, and maybe even city budgets. National Civic Review, 98(4), 31-35.

Sassen, S. (2012). URBAN CAPABILITIES: AN ESSAY ON OUR CHALLENGES AND DIFFERENCES. Journal of International Affairs, 65(2), 85-95.

Ufkes, E. G., Otten, S., van der Zee, K. I., & Giebels, E. (2012). Neighborhood conflicts: the role of social categorization. International Journal of Conflict Management, 23(3), 290 - 306. DOI : 10.1108/10444061211248985