A new European research project starting in January 2021 aims to provide an unprecedented international comparison of how counter-terrorism and urban security change the everyday experiences of residents across cities in Europe.
The project has been launched by an international team of researchers, led by the University of Birmingham and in collaboration with the University of Plymouth (UK), Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (Germany), CY Cergy Paris Université, and Institut Paris Region (France), and has received over £1.1 million from the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (part of UK Research and Innovation), Frances' Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) and the German Research Foundation (DFG).
In recent years, terrorism has become a predominantly urban phenomenon in Europe. As recent events in Nice and Vienna have shown, there has been a substantial shift in how terrorists operate, moving away from high-profile attacks against key strategic or symbolic sites and instead attacking everyday spaces like shopping promenades, pavements, hotels, restaurants, or cafés. With that, cities in Europe are continuously developing their defensive infrastructures and policing approaches to respond to such attacks and anticipate threats.
However, as Dr Sara Fregonese, Lecturer in Political Geography at the University of Birmingham, highlights:
"What we still know very little about is how terror threats and counter-terror measures alter the actual felt experience of cities for their residents."
Dr Paul Simpson, Associate Professor of Human Geography at the University of Plymouth, continues:
"Importantly, we also know little of how these emotive experiences of threat and counter-terrorism translate - often profoundly unequally - across different urban communities."
The project will include a large-scale international survey of people living in the UK, France and Germany, which will assess public perceptions of terror threats and around urban security and counter-terrorism measures. The research will then study in-depth five European cities - Berlin, Birmingham, Nice, Paris, and Plymouth - exploring how terror threats and security responses change the everyday experience and atmosphere of public spaces in these locations, which have contrasting histories of attacks, threat level and security responses.
The research will offer insights for international stakeholders on how counter-terror measures and security practices, taking place across a diverse range of cases, impact on the experience of the urban spaces that these stakeholders are responsible for.