“But the fact is that there are limitations to what physical, policing and technological enhancements in cities can achieve. Not every bit of critical infrastructure can be made blast-proof. CCTV cameras may help with investigations, but likely won’t prevent new attacks – although French railway authorities are planning to roll out up to 40,000 new security cameras that can monitor excessive body temperature and signs of anxiety, in the somewhat Orwellian hopes of identifying thought crimes before anyone gets killed.
In truth, there are not many examples of cities getting it right. In Baghdad, they’ve essentially resorted to the urban tourniquet of gated communities. In Tel Aviv, the locals are simply getting used to a heightened threat environment.
Martin Powell, a former adviser to the mayors of New York and London, says the best strategy is straightforward: “Invest in good planning and coordination, actionable intelligence and strategies to harden targets.” It might be dull, but it delivers: the New York Police Department claims to have foiled at least 16 terrorist plots since 2001. London says it foiled seven terror plots in October alone.
But governments cannot be expected to stop every attack. There is a temptation to erect barricades and build higher walls after each high-profile terrorist event. “This could create a debilitating culture of fear,” says the urban theorist Richard Florida. In both L.A. and New York – not to mention most cities on the planet – urban terror is, real or not, a fact of life. The trick is not to lock cities down, not to introduce mass surveillance and strangle the city.”