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Photo showing people gathered at the terrorism memorial in Place de la Republique
Credit: Dr Sara Fregonese

A new European research project starting in January 2021 aims to provide an unprecedented international comparison of how counterterrorism and urban security change the everyday experiences of residents across cities in Europe.

The project has been launched by an international team of researchers, led by the University of Birmingham and in collaboration with the University of Plymouth (UK), Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (Germany), CY Cergy Paris Université, and Institut Paris Region (France), and has received over £1.1 million from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (part of UK Research and Innovation), France's Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) and the German Research Foundation (DFG).

In recent years, terrorism has become a predominantly urban phenomenon in Europe. As recent events in Nice and Vienna have shown, there has been a substantial shift in how terrorists operate, moving away from high-profile attacks against key strategic or symbolic sites and attacking instead everyday spaces, like shopping promenades, pavements, hotels, restaurants, or cafes. Terrorism hits the everyday spaces of cities. With that, cities in Europe are continuously developing their defensive infrastructures and policing approaches to respond to such attacks and anticipate threats.

However, what is still very little known, and that the project sets out to explore, is how terror threats and counterterror measures alter the actual felt experience of cities for their residents. And importantly, how these emotive experiences of threat and counterterrorism translate – often very unequally - across different urban communities.

Dr Sara Fregonese is Lecturer in Political Geography in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham and has published extensively on armed conflict and on radicalisation and their impact on urban space. The funding for the University of Birmingham – totalling £ 260,000 – will also support a 12-month post-doctoral researcher within the School to conduct the Birmingham-focused research. Dr Fregonese, who oversees the European project and leads the Birmingham element of the research said: 

“Birmingham was chosen as a research site, to look in depth behind the trends of the international survey we will conduct, and to gather insight of how the presence and impact of counterterrorism planning and policies are experienced emotively differently across the communities of one of the UK’s most diverse cities. Birmingham has not suffered from recent major terror attacks, but has in the past. While the legacy of those past attacks has only recently been marked by a memorial in the city, we still know very little of how those acts of terrorism, and the threat of new and different ones, play out in residents’ everyday lived experience of the city”

The project will include a large-scale international survey of people living in the UK, France and Germany, which will assess public perceptions of terror threats and around urban security and counter-terrorism measures. The research will then study in-depth five European cities – Berlin, Birmingham, Nice, Paris, and Plymouth – exploring how terror threats and security responses change the everyday experience and atmosphere of public spaces in these locations, which have contrasting histories of attacks, threat level and security responses.

The research will offer insights for international stakeholders on how counterterror measures and security practices, taking place across a diverse range of cases, impact on the experience of the urban spaces that these stakeholders are responsible for.

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