Protecting the Urban The Dangers of Planning for Terrorism

Jon Coaffee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Citations (Scopus)


Urban areas are prime targets for international terrorists given the array of valuable physical and social infrastructure they contain. Whereas traditionally governmental, financial, critical infrastructure or military targets have been attacked, increasingly terrorism is targeted at everyday crowded urban spaces which are by their very nature difficult to defend. Subsequently this has led to a wave of pre-emptive and anticipatory counter-terrorism policy in the West in an attempt to secure the defence of the future city. In such policy-making urban terror attacks are viewed as inevitable and unavoidable, but the nature of such attacks is seen as fluid. Notably, recent commando-style attacks against non-western cities - in Mumbai and Lahore in late 2008 and early 2009 respectively - and against soft, unprotected targets has led to a reassessment of western urban security strategies and an assumption that such terrorist modus operandi will migrate to western cities. Such an uncritical reading, as exemplified by the western bias in media reporting in the aftermath of these events, highlights the need for scholars and policy-makers to engage with alternative readings of these events and illuminate the contextual factors underlying terrorism and its tactics, and target selection in particular locations. In developing a more rounded and reflexive understanding of terrorism as a method, planners and policy-makers might be in a better position to progress more nuanced security strategies that aim to tackle the underlying causes of terrorism rather than simply reacting through militarizing an increasing array of urban spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-355
Number of pages13
JournalTheory Culture & Society
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2009


  • Mumbai
  • terrorism
  • western cities
  • Lahore
  • counter-terrorism


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