The Visibility of (In)security: The Aesthetics of Planning Urban Defences Against Terrorism

Jon Coaffee, P O'Hare, M Hawkesworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

69 Citations (Scopus)


Urban defences against terrorism have traditionally been based on territorial interventions that sought to seal off and surveil certain public and private spaces considered targets. Lately, though, a much wider range of crowded and public spaces have been viewed as potential targets and thus have been identified as requiring additional security. This has immense implications for the experience of the 'everyday' urban landscape. Drawing on contemporary notions that incorporate the study of aesthetics and emotions within critical security and terrorism studies, this article discusses the visual impact of counter-terrorism security measures. It analyses the 'transmission' of symbolic messages, as well as the variety of ways in which security might be 'received' by various stakeholders. The analysis takes place against the backdrop of concern that obtrusive security measures have the capacity to radically alter public experiences of space and in some cases lead to (intended and unintended) exclusionary practices or a range of negative emotional responses. The article concludes by outlining a 'spectrum of visible security' ranging between traditional obtrusive fortified approaches and approaches that embed security features seamlessly or even 'invisibly' into the urban fabric.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-511
Number of pages23
JournalSecurity Dialogue
Issue number4-5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2009


  • urban planning
  • visibility
  • 'War on Terror'
  • security
  • counter-terrorism


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