Group Segregation and Urban Violence


  • We thank Yair Assaf-Shapira, Shaul Arieli, David Backer, Adi Ben-Nun, Thomas Biersteker, Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom, Eitan Bluer, Heidrun Bohnet, Lars-Erik Cederman, Orit Kedar, Urs Luterbacher, Moshe Maor, Meir Margalit, Lilach Nir, Michael Shalev, Tamir Sheafer, Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan, David Sylvan, Laura Wharton, and three anonymous reviewers for their comments, as well as participants at seminars at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, ETH Zürich, the Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica in Barcelona, the Watson Institute at Brown University, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Elena Gajdanova, Katharina Luz, and Ashley Thornton provided valuable research assistance. Support for this article was provided in part by European Projects No. EC231200 and EC324247, the ETH Foundation, ETH project CH1-0108-2, the Levi Eshkol Institute for Social, Economic and Political Research, and the Shine Center for Research in Social Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

  • Replication data can be found at, and the Supporting Information is posted on the AJPS website.


How does segregation shape intergroup violence in contested urban spaces? Should nominal rivals be kept separate or instead more closely integrated? We develop an empirically grounded agent-based model to understand the sources and patterns of violence in urban areas, employing Jerusalem as a demonstration case and seeding our model with microlevel, geocoded data on settlement patterns. An optimal set of parameters is selected to best fit the observed spatial distribution of violence in the city, with the calibrated model used to assess how different levels of segregation, reflecting various proposed “virtual futures” for Jerusalem, would shape violence. Our results suggest that besides spatial proximity, social distance is key to explaining conflict over urban areas: arrangements conducive to reducing the extent of intergroup interactions—including localized segregation, limits on mobility and migration, partition, and differentiation of political authority—can be expected to dampen violence, although their effect depends decisively on social distance.