The Paris and Beirut attacks seem rather different in terms of their tactics and urban security

I really have no desire to teach today, as last week when I was summing up the urban design section of the course, I noted that while urbanists tend to focus on inclusion, they do not really have a great answer to the urban warfare issues brought up by David Kilcullen in his book Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla. We read a portion of this book in class.

Last Thursday, I went on rather at length about how I really didn’t think urbanists take security as seriously as they probably should, given what we have learned about coordinated terrorist strikes against civilians after the Taj bombings. I asked questions, about the role of surveillance, the difficulty of governing megaregions, and how “eyes on the street”–the standard urbanist response to concerns about security–just doesn’t cover us for things like the events in Mumbai, Paris, or Beirut. Eyes on the street captured Jane Jacobs’ response to the notion that people needed suburbs, gated communities, parks, or road standards for “safety”, when really what they needed was lively urbanity and, in her discussion, shopkeepers who would be natural custodians of the street. These ideas about seeing and social capital are not necessarily a sufficient response to urban terrorism in a globalized world that I really don’t think Jacobs or anybody else could have envisioned. Instead, lots of the people on the street are targets.

I do think the Beirut and Paris attacks were tactically quite different, even though everybody seems to want us to discuss them in the same way. I certainly care about the loss of human life everywhere, but these attacks were different in the number and types of attacks. They might have been by the same organization, or loose conglomeration of organizations, but the Beirut attack was done by two suicide bombers. The Paris attacks involved multiple targets and hostage-taking, a lot more like the Taj bombings.

Here’s Greg Kilcullen discussing the need for new ways of thinking about the urban landscape in contemporary warfare. My favorite part is towards the end where he notes that they did a better job in Iraq when they started talking to Iraqis about how to defend neighborhoods. Um, planning!