Rearranging Urban Space

Rearranging Urban Space

Francesca Menichelli (Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2013100102
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Abstract

This article investigates what happens to urban space once an open-street CCTV system is implemented, framing the analysis in terms of the wider struggle that unfolds between different urban stakeholders for the definition of acceptability in public space. It is argued that, while the use of surveillance cameras was initially seen as functional to the enforcement of tighter control and to the de-complexification of urban space so as to make policing easier, a shift has now taken place in the articulation of this goal. As a result, it has slowly progressed to affect the wider field of sociability, with troubling consequences for the public character of public space. In light of this development, the article concludes by making the case for a normative stance to be taken in order to increase fairness and diversity in the city.
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Mapping Urban Space Through Cctv

The overall aim of the implementation of a CCTV system is to reduce the complexity of both public encounters and urban space so as to make policing easier. First, the presence of surveillance cameras changes the way police interact with the public. Rather than patrolling officers having face-to-face interactions with people, their street level gaze taking in the wealth of information arising from the scene, CCTV establishes an asymmetrical, and technologically-mediated, relationship, where the police can watch, while not being subject to the gaze of people, but cannot access contextual information other than the visual cues picked up by the cameras. The elimination of four out of five senses forces CCTV operators to rely almost exclusively on their practical knowledge and their assumptions on what constitutes ordinary behaviour in public, in a given place, at a given time. The main assumption behind any form of visual control is that deviance is visible and can, therefore, be spotted if we know what to look out for. In this regard, police officers use what Sacks (1972) called the “incongruity procedure” and its idea that things that look out of place in a given context are those that call for further scrutiny. Video surveillance works exactly in the same way; however, empirical studies (among them: Norris & Armstrong, 1999) have demonstrated how potentially open to abuse this technology is because of its over-reliance on the sense of sight. We now know that visible minorities are disproportionately targeted, and that most cases of targeted surveillances are not to do with crime or related offences:

The problem is the operative does not have prior knowledge which would enable them to determine which persons are going to engage in criminal activity. It is therefore an occupational necessity that they develop a set of working rules and procedures which seeks to maximize their chances of selecting those most likely to be involved. (…) [W]hen assessing who is worthy of a second glance, CCTV operators bring with them taken-for-granted assumptions about the distribution of criminality within the population (Norris & Armstrong, 1999, pp. 117-118).

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