Program on Urban Peacebuilding

The Program on Urban Peacebuilding leverages interdisciplinary research and practice to support efforts to prevent and respond to violence in urban areas and to bolster innovative approaches to city-wide peacebuilding.

Connecting community members, academics, policymakers, and practitioners from various fields, the program creates cutting-edge community-based learning experiences that support communities in building on their knowledge and creative potential to more effectively influence social change. The Program’s approach to urban peacebuilding focuses on partnering with stakeholders to lay the groundwork for more integrated and dynamic city-wide peacebuilding models.

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The Need: Cities as Sites of Conflict

According to the United Nations, approximately 55% of the world’s population lived in urban areas in 2018, a figure that is projected to increase to 68% by 2050.  At their best, cities offer complex social spaces that amplify the creative and cultural capital of residents and serve as crossroads for people from a wide array of backgrounds. In a rapidly urbanizing world, vibrant cities are at the core of ensuring the health and wellbeing of people. 

While cities can be places of connection, collaboration, and exchange, they can also be deeply divided along economic, racial, ethnic, religious, and other lines of social difference. As highlighted by the UN Habitat report in 2016, 75% of the world’s cities have higher levels of income inequality than two decades ago. The promises of mobility, creativity, and innovation are not shared by all residents in cities, and deep divisions in cities breed pervasive and systematic exclusion and intensify violent social dynamics in urban areas. 

As a result of these dynamics, millions of people living in cities globally experience the far-reaching impacts of persistent violence. Additionally, some of the world’s highest homicide rates occur not in countries that are experiencing war, but instead in nations where elevated rates of inequality prompt violence in urban communities. There is a pressing need to better understand and respond to these challenges which are growing both in scope and complexity.

While there is research on the underlying complex dynamics of crime, deviance, and violence in cities, the majority of these studies focus narrowly on public policy concerns about crime in poor urban communities (Akom, Ginwright, and Camma, 2008). Additionally, policy makers too often explain crime, delinquency, and violence as individual pathological behavior, especially when it comes to young people in the city. There is a growing body of research that explores social bonds, prosocial behavior, neighborhood networks, and a host of other key areas that can be more effectively leveraged to shift the dynamics of violence in cities. Indeed, these axes of urban peacebuilding highlight the key role that urban residents are playing in working to make lasting changes in their communities.

The Opportunity: Strengthening Peacebuilding Communities of Practice in Cities

Globally, cities provide an excellent space in which to understand how emerging peacemaking practices can be used in complex social environments to prevent violence and generate more equitable and thriving communities. Given that cities are crossroads for people of many different backgrounds, they provide an opportunity to understand how peacemaking can be adapted to the local context and “go viral” within regional and global networks interested in influencing social change. Cities provide a hub where local peacebuilding practitioners convene, connect across lines of difference, innovate, and communicate more broadly with other networks of concerned stakeholders.


What We Do: Bridging Urban Peacebuilding Scholarship and Practice

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Education and Training

Our education and training programs focus on linking theory and practice in urban peacebuilding. We build on the knowledge and experiences of everyday urban peacebuilders and connect that knowledge with existing research on effective approaches to peacebuilding. We identify urban peacebuilders and their allies and support their work in the violence-affected communities where they live and work. Drawing on experiential education, educational theater, simulations, and other cutting-edge approaches, these programs draw on emerging research about the most effective ways to learn about and respond to destructive conflict. In addition to advancing knowledge about urban peacebuilding and the skills needed to respond to these challenges, these educational programs provide opportunities to convene a broad array of stakeholders and further develop peacebuilding networks within and across cities.

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Our goal is to conduct cutting-edge research with a diverse array of partners and to make that research accessible and widely available. Our approach is focused on understanding, amplifying, and bridging knowledge across epistemic communities in the city utilizing complexity theory, network theory, systems theory, and other interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks that allow for better understanding the generation, diffusion, and uptake of knowledge about peacemaking in urban environments. 

The past several decades of research on violence prevention clearly demonstrates that violence in cities is the result of multiple overlapping risk factors and deeper underlying cycles that produce the conditions whereby deprivation, anti-social behavior, and violence are all too likely. However, there are still too few studies that examine approaches that foster pro-social behavior, resilience, collective-efficacy, creative resistance to injustice, and other community-driven processes of change. To address this gap, we draw on an interdisciplinary approach to engaged scholarship that is grounded in the co-production of knowledge, bringing together stakeholders from various backgrounds, formal and informal actors, and academics to develop models that link theory and practice.

The Program makes this knowledge accessible and useful outside the academy through partnerships with grassroots organizations and dialogue with policymakers, as well as creative projects exploring themes with key grassroots influencers. We also disseminate this knowledge within the academy, highlighting the need for more research on urban peacebuilding through conferences focused on these themes while generating outstanding academic publications that ground us as an academic center for excellence in engaged research. 

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Technical Assistance

We leverage our research to provide technical assistance to communities of practice. Technical assistance involves the development of tools and resources for practitioners and policymakers in order to improve a specific set of practices. This includes using data to assist practitioners and policymakers in exploring new approaches to key challenges, articulating and refining their theory of change, and developing approaches for implementing specific policies or procedures. Our strengths in this area are grounded in over 25 years of building expertise in bridging theory and practice at the Carter School and within our network of Visiting Scholars with specific expertise in cities.  

Ongoing Projects

Community Led Projects

The Program on Urban Peacebuilding is pleased to announce a National Endowement of Humanities Grant for 2024-25 entitled, “Truth Telling About Collective Resilience with Diasporic Communities: Navigating Displacement,Erasure, and the Impacts of COVID-19”. The grant is led by Dr. Arthur Romano and Dr. Margarita Tadevosyan and Ms. Patt Gunn, Dr. Melinda Salizar and Rachel Davis of the Truthtelling Project. The project will assist with the recovery of documentation and the organization of in-person, gatherings to collect oral histories associated with the history of racial violence in Forsyth county, Georgia. Two truthtelling events in Georgia will bring diaspora and their allies together and allow for documentation of the impacts and resiliency that followed the violence of the expulsion. The oral histories will be made available online via a portal along with an interactive map.  The team will develop educational materials for teachers in schools which can be used to learn and teach about the atrocities aimed at “racial cleansing” in Forsyth County with which the wider public can be encouraged to consider pathways toward racial healing.
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Restorative Justice and Conflict Transformation in Urban Schools

Schools are centers of social life for many communities and can play a vital role in advancing knowledge about peacemaking practices. Emerging research on restorative justice (RJ) highlights that RJ can reduce exclusionary practices that push minority students out of school and into high-risk situations where they are more vulnerable to exploitation and violence. We work with schools to develop models that harness their potential as hubs for productively engaging with conflict, explore and embrace the complex dynamics of educational institutions, and build a more equitable community. This includes the integration of racial and social justice frameworks into RJ training and the integration of trauma-informed practices.
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Police De-Escalation and Conflict Resolution Training and Law Enforcement Professional Development

We develop experiential approaches to training that equip police officers with techniques to prevent situations from escalating to a point where the threat of violence is imminent. We utilize techniques such as simulations, experiential activities, reflective practice, and participatory learning as well as virtual reality and augmented reality training tools in a variety of learning settings, ranging from introductory programs in police academies to professional development courses for law enforcement leadership. This includes the integration of frameworks for understanding the historical causes of conflicts, race and gender dynamics, and the integration of trauma-informed practices.
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Shared and Participatory Governance

We explore innovative ways that citizens and civil society organizations are engaging in urban governance and pay particular attention to the role and implications of increasingly hybrid forms of governance. This is an exciting time in cities where civil society actors are exploring local models to engage with issues handled by the state – such as justice – through local truth telling, restorative justice and reparations work, new nonviolent approaches to security, increased engagement in criminal justice reform, the development of local food systems, and a wide range of other strategies that are central to urban conflict transformation.            
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Building Bridges Across Lines of Difference in the City

We engage with groups that are well positioned to influence peacebuilding processes by assisting with organizational development, coalition-building, dialogue work, network facilitation, and mediation across civil society groups. The goal of these activities is both to support organizations in increasing their effectiveness and to build more dynamic urban networks with concrete processes for collaboration, information sharing, cross-sector learning, and action. These groups include grassroots activists, policymakers, law enforcement, educators, medical professionals, and mental health providers that are engaged with or interested in violence prevention and peacebuilding.
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