Urban violence: types, causes and consequences

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Urban violence It is a social phenomenon that occurs in cities and is caused by problems of a structural nature, such as inequalities socioeconomic conditions, urban segregation and the lack of opportunities to guarantee a dignified life in the space urban. The rates of urban violence in Brazil have grown considerably since the second half of the 20th century, and its occurrence is registered in cities in all regions of the country. The solution to this problem demands short, medium and long-term measures from the government, especially those capable of ensuring fairer and safer cities.

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Topics of this article

  • 1 - Summary on urban violence
  • 2 - Causes of urban violence
  • 3 - Types of urban violence
  • 4 - Urban violence in Brazil
  • 5 - Consequences of urban violence
  • 6 - Possible solutions for urban violence

Abstract about urban violence

  • Urban violence is a social phenomenon caused by structural problems such as socioeconomic inequalities, segregation urban life, lack of job opportunities and also lack of access to other basic citizen rights, such as decent housing, health and education.

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  • According to WHO, violence can be self-inflicted, interpersonal (family or community) or collective.

  • At the Brazil, urban violence has intensified since the second half of the 20th century and is observed both in small towns and in large urban centers.

  • In 2021 alone, more than 65,000 homicides were recorded in the country, which mainly victimized the black and young population.

  • Increased insecurity, worsening quality of life, devaluation of real estate and economic losses are some of the consequences of urban violence.

  • Solutions to this problem demand immediate and continuous action by the government, which includes improvements in the public security sector and social policies.

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Causes of urban violence

Urban violence is, at the same time, a social phenomenon and a structural problem that can be observed in cities around the world, be they global metropolises, medium-sized cities or small towns.

For this reason, many of the causes of urban violence are rooted in the historical process of formation of that particular social group, including the socio-territorial constitution of a country. Also appearing as causes are the way in which urbanization and, consequently, the segregation of urban space contributed to the deepening of socioeconomic inequalities and for the exclusion of a portion of the population, an exclusion that is reflected in the organization of the fabric urban.

The main cause of urban violence is the socioeconomic inequality that characterizes several societies, including the Brazilian one, and is expressed mainly through the poor distribution of income among the population, which leads to other more serious problems, such as hunger, misery and lack of access to basic citizen services and rights that ensure a dignified life, such as housing, sanitation, health and education.

Such inequalities were further reinforced by the urbanization process, in particular in underdeveloped countries it is us emerging countries, in which the growth of cities happened in a more recent period, from the middle of the 20th century, and it happened quickly and without planning, causing what we call urban macrocephaly.

As a consequence, there is a growth of pockets of poverty in cities, areas where infrastructure urban life is deficient or absent, and improvement actions are rarely aimed at increasing the quality of life of that portion of the population.

It is important to remember that urban spatial segregation permeates ethnic segregation, which has Brazilian history as an example and the way in which the formation of favelas in the main urban centers of the country.

Returning to the discussion on violence in urban centers, we can also mention the arms and drug trafficking, which intensifies insecurity in cities and contributes to the increase in violence rates. Other factors such as lack of opportunities, such as the high rates of unemployment and underemployment, and absence of state public policies focused on solving urban structural problems are factors that condition the rise of urban violence.

Types of urban violence

Close-up view of bullet holes in the side door of a car.
Traffic violence is a type of interpersonal violence that happens in cities.

A World Health Organization (WHO) classifies violence into three types, which are widely used in analyzes on the subject and can be extended to our study on violence in urban centers.

  • Self-inflicted violence: the violence that the individual commits against himself, without the involvement of third parties. Examples of this type of violence are suicide and self-mutilation.

  • Interpersonal violence: the violence that the individual commits against other individuals who are part of their social circle or not. In the second case, it is called community violence. Domestic violence, which is violence that occurs within the same family and is committed against women, children, the elderly, theft followed by death (robbery), homicides and violent acts that occur in traffic are all examples of this category of violence.

  • Community violence: the violence practiced by social, political and also economic groups. The activities of criminal factions, hate crimes and disputes over territories fit into this category.

Urban violence in Brazil

Urban violence is a reality in Brazilian urban centers and has become a concern not only in large cities and metropolitan areas, but also in medium and small cities in various regions of the country.

this phenomenon intensified from the second half of the 20th century, when the growth of urban areas began to happen at an accelerated pace due to modernization in the countryside and the advance of industrialization.

However, the expansion of cities took place in the absence of planning, which resulted in a segregated space whose services and activities do not serve all its citizens, deepening socioeconomic inequalities.

The Atlas of Violence produced by the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea) reveals that 45,503 homicides were registered in the country in 2021, a rate of approximately 21.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. Of this total, 77% correspond to black people.

There is also significant violence against indigenous populations in municipalities where there are demarcated lands, against the indigenous population. LGBTQIA+, which registered an increase of 9.8% between 2018 and 2019, and gender violence, which victimized more than 50,000 women between 2009 and 2019.

The research also showed the increase in traffic violence, placing Brazil in the fifth position among the countries with the highest number of deaths in traffic worldwide. According to Ipea, there were 22 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.|1|

Violence in Brazilian cities happens unevenly across regions., with higher rates registered in the cities of the North It's from North East of the country when we consider the small municipalities, notably those classified as “rural” by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).

Below we present a list of ten most violent cities in Brazil according to the Public Security Yearbook published in 2022 by the Brazilian Public Security Forum|2|.

  1. São João do Jaguaribe (Ceará)

  2. Jacareacanga (For)

  3. Aurelino Leal (bahia)

  4. Araguaia Forest (Pará)

  5. Umarizal (large northern river)

  6. Guaiúba (Ceará)

  7. Jussari (Bahia)

  8. Rodolfo Fernandes (Rio Grande do Norte)

  9. Extremoz (Rio Grande do Norte)

  10. Aripuanã (Mato Grosso)

See too: Poverty in Brazil—a problem whose origins date back to the colonial period

Consequences of urban violence

Urban violence is a problem that has consequences not only for people who are victims of it on a daily basis, but also for the economy, for the structure of the municipality and for its population in general, which starts to live with a state of fear and insecurity that result in a worsening in the quality of life. life.

We point out below some of the consequences of urban violence.

  • Increase in the number of deaths, which causes a long-term change in the demographic profile of the population. In Brazil, for example, the main victims of homicides are black and young people.

  • Worsening of existing structural problems, such as socioeconomic and territorial inequalities.

  • Economic damage to trade and retail, which can affect the economic development of a given municipality.

  • Devaluation of real estate (residential and commercial) in areas with greater recurrence of violence, that is, more vulnerable due to insecurity.

  • Increased fear and insecurity to circulate in the city and enjoy the urban space.

  • Deterioration of the physical and mental health of the inhabitants of cities that register high levels of violence, leading to the development of anxiety, anguish and even depression.

Possible solutions to urban violence

The lack of control over urban violence is a serious problem for the population, as we saw earlier, and generates an enormous lack of confidence in the authorities and public managers responsible for managing the space urban. Solving this question quickly is a very difficult and delicate task, considering the different forms of urban violence and the scale it has reached in recent times.

A understanding of the phenomenon in each of the cities and the preparation of new management plans aimed at improving public safety are some of the measures that can be taken in the medium and long term.

Added to this is the development of social policies to guarantee the basic rights of the entire urban population, ensuring access to fundamental services and job opportunities, as well as inclusion measures that will help transform cities into fair and safer spaces.


|1|WRITING. See the list of the 30 most violent cities in Brazil, according to the yearbook. Folha de S.Paulo, 28 June 2022. Available here.

|2| BRUM, Gabriel. Brazil is fifth in the world ranking of traffic victims. Agência Brasil, 03 Feb. 2022. Available here.

By Paloma Guitarrara
Geography Teacher

Click here to understand what social inequality is, how it affects people's lives and what measures can reduce the difference between classes.

Understand what urban macrocephaly is and what are the causes and consequences of this phenomenon. Learn more about Milton Santos' definition for this concept.

Click on the link to learn more about the Carandiru massacre. Understand how it happened and the consequences of this event.

Understand the issue of segregation and inequality in urban centers.

Click here to learn about the types of violence. Understand the concept of violence. See what are the most common types of violence in Brazil.

Click here to find out what urbanization is and how the process takes place. See how this one played out here and abroad. Also check out the most populous cities in the world!

Click here to understand Brazilian violence, its causes and consequences. Understand data on violence in Brazil. Also learn about world violence.

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