This article investigates the security–development nexus through a study of local experiences in a neighbourhood in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. As the Sri Lankan state struggles to secure ‘the nation’ from ‘terrorism’, and to develop it towards a twin vision of modernization and return to a glorious past, large parts of the population in Colombo 15 remain at the margins of this ‘nation’. They are ethnic and religious minorities, forgotten tsunami victims, terrorist suspects and unauthorized dwellers – those often depicted as threats to, rather than subjects of, ‘security’ and ‘development’. This study reveals that the security–development nexus constitutes a complex web of linkages between factors related to housing, income, tsunami reconstruction, party politics, crime, political violence and counter-violence, social relations, and religious beliefs and rituals. People’s perceptions of and opportunities to pursue security/development are intimately linked to their position as dominant or marginalized within ‘the nation’, ‘the community’ and ‘the family’. ‘Security’ and ‘development’ issues are mutually reinforcing at times, but just as often undermine each other, forcing people to make tough choices between different types of security/development.