Yesterday I took part in a walking tour of surveillance camera locations in downtown Cincinnati, led by Bill Brown of the Surveillance Camera Players. Having become acquainted with Brown’s work about ten years ago, it was an honor to finally meet him and hear his first-hand perspective on surveillance technology in the contemporary city. If you’re interested, he will lead another tour in June.
Here is Brown’s map of downtown Cincinnati from 2005. If you attend the tour, you’ll receive an updated and more detailed map with 222 camera locations. The tour itself took us from the Aronoff Center to Fountain Square, an area just large enough to introduce the surveillance camera typology seen throughout downtown, and examples of cameras owned privately, by the state or federal government, Metro/SORTA, and the Cincinnati Police Department.. Brown also briefly discussed aerospace surveillance and cellphones.
In graduate school, I explored various modes of narrative and narratology, which led to a detour into surveillance as a means of narrative construction. I even conducted some of my own surveillance experiments. The technology used is scary and possibly sinister, but my interests focused primarily on perception, behavior modification and narrative extrapolation rather than on civil liberties. In any case, I did my share of reading Jeremy Bentham, Michel Foucault, the Situationists, and the Surveillance Camera Players. So, it was interesting to hear about some of these issues from another perspective with slightly different priorities [and much more in-depth knowledge].
The top photo is of a surveillance camera on private property, whose design, placement and signage make its presence known. You could argue that it functions as a deterrent, and that knowing you are watched serves as a kind of protection. The second photo is of a three-camera “streetlight” in Government Square, which is unmarked, camouflaged, and fully integrated into the streetscape. This example is much more sinister. If you do not notice it, then it neither deters criminal activity nor serves to make citizens feel protected. So, which is the better design?
If you frequent downtown and are concerned with urban life, you should do your own research into these issues and, if you can, attend Brown’s next tour. In future posts, I’ll share specific thoughts on some ways in which I think design controls behavior in various spaces, as well as some examples of subversion.