While cities grew with the acceleration of the rural exodus and urbanisation, the conflicts of the Cold War directed humanitarian action towards rural environments. Cities, which had been the scene of violence up till WWII with the bombing of Dresden, the siege of Stalingrad and the ruins of Hiroshima, began to take centre stage again at the beginning of the 90s with wars such as those in Sarajevo, Mogadishu and Grozny. Humanitarian practices were not adapted to these new operational contexts. Groupe URD began its research project “Wars in cities and cities in wars” in 2001 which aimed to shed light on the challenges of humanitarian action in cities and urban reconstruction. This was followed by major projects on Afghan cities, post-tsunami reconstruction and finally on integrating specific urban characteristics into the response to the Haiti earthquake. For ten years now, it has been one of our priorities to promote an urban perspective in a world where crises in cities and cities in crisis are more and more frequent and destructive.
The Cities and Crises conference in April 2011, organized in partnership with the Mairie de Paris and with the support of the Rhône-Alpes Region, was an opportunity for a wide variety of representatives from humanitarian and development organisations, NGOs, UN agencies, Red Cross organizations, Regional Cooperation bodies and universities to discuss their work, their practices and their difficulties. This special issue of Humanitarian Aid on the Move, written by some of those who spoke at the conference, aims to give an idea of the richness of the exchanges which took place. Far from closing the subject, these articles raise fundamental questions for the sector which call for reflection, exploration and innovation.