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Urban consolidation (or densification) is a much-vaunted contemporary planning paradigm with environmental, economic, psycho-social and cultural foundation. However, the social success of high-density development will be circumscribed without an address of urban fear.

The urban densification / consolidation paradigm has the potential to realize a modern utopia. Why would we not strive for its promise of an organized, responsive city that affords environmental, economic and socio-cultural benefit?

The danger is that urban scholars have been duped by a neo-liberal furphy that purports universal benefit yet is a cynical and surreptitious tool for securing countryside resources for an elite minority and boosting land prices for urban core landlords and profits for developers . Furthermore, increased population density can be used to justify authoritarian and bureaucratic tactics through heightened surveillance, fines and regimentation..

Quantitative assessment of urban fear has myopically focused on ‘fear of crime’ and led to overstatement of this sole aspect of a multi-faceted phenomenon best understood in terms of identity. Uptake of such assessments has resulted in over-subscription to misanthropic residential architecture and a neo-liberal secured-by-design blueprint. This strives to subsume identity with consumerist intrusion of private interest upon the public realm and actually heightens urban fear.

Recognition of flaws in quantitative approaches to urban fear has led Paul to a qualitative psycho-social and philosophical appraisal of fear that concentrates upon identity formation as opposed to ill-considered application of stereo-typical, dichotomous labelling. Such an appraisal, coupled with the assertion that lessons from group psychotherapy can be applied to social phenomena, provides psychological underpinnings to the importance of the public realm – particularly in terms of its role in addressing identity-based fear in areas of high residential density. Conflict resolution requires a platform not a cloak. The public realm is the required platform.

However, the role of the public realm across the world’s cities is undermined by neo-liberalism and application of ‘creative class’ theory as a cloak for homogenising gentrification. This is counter to the social diversity objectives of urban consolidation policy. Fortunately, a qualitative psycho-social approach also proffers suggestions as to how to tackle fear in the face of hindrances such as neo-liberal-generated societal individualism. For example, civic engagement in the address of fear can be facilitated by acceptance, even encouragement, of reactive nihilism and deployment of a participatory discursive-photographic approach that digitally extends the public realm and allows for citizens to reflect upon the pros and cons of densification.

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