What is the city? How did it come into existence? What processes does it further: what functions does it perform: what purposes does it fulfill? No single definition will apply to all its manifestations and no single description will cover all its transformations, from the embryonic social nucleus to the complex forms of its maturity and corporeal disintegration of its old age. The origins of the city are obscure, a large part of its past buried of effaced beyond recovery, and its further prospects are difficult to weigh.Lewis Mumford: The City in History, Chapter 1.
While it may be tempting to try to come with definitions of the city it is really too difficult to come up with anything that will suit all types of cities in the past, present, and future. There are some bland descriptions such as
“A city is a large human settlement. It can be defined as a permanent and densely settled place with administratively defined boundaries whose members work primarily on non-agricultural tasks.” (wikipedia) which seems to fit the bill, but somehow falls short.
What would we, for example, call Burning Man in this context? An annual event held in the western United States at Black Rock City, a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwestern Nevada. In 2016 the population was 67,290.
But from the perspective of surveillance and privacy the city is a large group of people co-existing and therefore needing to be regulated through a series of rules. Some such rules are codified into laws and ordinances, while some are regulated via social norms and rules. And others are regulated by the design of the city itself. In these cases we can speak of an architecture of control.
Architecture of control
The architecture of control sounds ominous but this has always been part of the function of the city. The creation of roads both facilitate the passage of people and demonstrate how they should pass. The city wall and gate keep people safely inside but also keep others outside.
The philosopher Lieven De Cauter has written about the ways in which our cities are becoming more fortified and militaristic, in particular after the wars in Iran, Iraq, and terror attacks such as 9/11. He writes:
‘Above our heads and behind our backs the city as we knew it is disappearing, and a new sort of city and a new sort of urban character are emerging’De Cauter, The Capsular Civilization: On the City in the Age of Fear p 11
This design for control can naturally be seen in the spaces/buildings that may be viewed as targets. Take for example the planning for the United States Embassy in London. These images are from Oliver Wainwright Fortress London: The New US Embassy and the Rise of Counter-Terror Urbanism in the Harvard Design Magazine.
The design, the firm explained, was inspired by European castles…in that the building’s defensive strategy would be hidden in the landscape. In principle, the scheme isn’t too far from a medieval motte and bailey. The 200-foot glass cube is raised up on a hill, set back from the nearest street by over 100 feet, and surrounded by a moat—or a “pond,” as the architects would prefer you to call it.
Within this defensive buffer zone, the planning application drawings reveal a fascinating world of military-bucolic strategies, a tactical topography of “hostile vehicle mitigation” techniques woven into an undulating idyll of prairie grasses and weeping willows.
To the north, the site is bordered with an English yew hedge, which leads to meadowland planted with species native to North America… Secreted inside the foliage will be a line of steel and concrete bollards capable of stopping an eight-ton truck driving head-on at 40 miles per hour. If, by some miracle, a hostile vehicle does break through the hedge of steel, it will be confronted by a wall of seating at the other end of the meadow, along with two sharp changes of level, and then the great pond—a 100-foot expanse of water, behind which the embassy stands on a raised plinth, its defensive wall disguised by a gushing waterfall.
To the south, the site is edged with another seating wall—benches affixed to a thick slab of truck-impeding concrete—behind which the landscape rises in a defensive berm, a.k.a. a “meadow” … As the cross section in the planning application shows, a third of the way along this mound the ground plummets into a steep ditch… conveniently scaled so as to trap any kind of moving vehicle that might try to make a break across the meadow.
London has long been familiar with this kind of defensive design. In the early 1990 it introduced a security perimeter “the Ring of Steel” in response to the terror threat posed by the IRA bomb attacks.
Beginning as a very visible line of plastic bollards and police checkpoints, it has gradually dissolved into a barely perceptible border of CCTV cameras and license plate recognition software, rising bollards and strategic planting, chicanes and road closures, with the effect of progressively reducing the number of access points in and out of the Square Mile, making it easier to shut the city down at a moment’s notice. In many ways it has returned the financial capital to the medieval walled city of yore, the hefty wall of stone and mortar simply replaced with barriers of a more surreptitious kind.
It may be logical to devise strategies to control such large scale threats but it is interesting to note how much of the city around us is designed with the specific purpose of regulating our behavior. Some are open and recognizable, for example traffic lights are there to control the flow of traffic. But there are more “subtle” examples of control by design. In particular the design of these features “signals” which users are welcome in a particular space and which are not.
Among the most recognizable of these “hostile’ designs are those aimed at preventing homeless people from loitering in an area. This video asks the question: Why cities are full of uncomfortable benches?
For a more detailed discussion on defensive urban design this talk by Cara Chellew is excellent: Rethinking defensive urban design
By pointing to these design choices we are left wondering who the city is for? Not who legally owns it (even if this is an important question) but who gets to use it? And for what purpose.
This design is used in several other spaces. For example this toilet design is created to limit the time employees spend in the bathroom.
The slope makes the toilet uncomfortable and therefore shortens breaks which makes employees more productive. Through this design the company (and all the companies that install it) have decided what the “correct” amount of time is in the bathroom and is actively punishing anyone who should have the misfortune to need to spend more time there.
The Privatization of the City
Another threat to the city is the privatization of public space. The once common areas around us have to a large extent been transferred into alternate forms of control and ownership. There are several reasons why this may be done but in doing so these once public spaces are not longer available to the full extent they once were – they become private spaces that allow for public use a distinction with an important civic difference. In the following video Mike Rugnetta asks if the internet is a public space and in doing so he uses the analogy of the right to protest in public malls.
The mall is an excellent example of a Privately Owned Public Space (POPS).
1. a plaza, arcade, or other outdoor or indoor space provided for public use by a private office or residential building owner in return for a zoning concession 2. a type of public space characterized by the combination of private ownership and zoning-specified public use 3. one of 550 or so plazas, urban plazas, residential plazas, public plazas, elevated plazas, arcades, through block arcades, through block gallerias, through block connections, covered pedestrian spaces, sidewalk widenings, open air concourses, or other privately owned public spaces specifically defined by New York City’s Zoning Resolution and accompanying legal instrumentshttps://apops.mas.org/about/
You can use this map to locate POPS in New York. Here is what they have to say about 45 West 60th Street a POPS very close to Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.
With three separately situated, but networked, spaces in the immediate neighborhood of the Regent, it is not easy to decipher which spaces are part of the Regent’s residential plaza and which belong to the neighboring Beaumont to the east. Brick paving patterns offer the first significant clue. Although the Regent’s residential plaza is geographically split into two unconnected pieces, one located at the southeast corner of Columbus Avenue and West 61st Street, the other on the north side of West 60th Street east of Columbus Avenue, they bear a striking resemblance in design, in beige-colored brick surface material, and landscape treatment. The third space, with its purplish brick, is a residential plaza attached to the Beaumont and connects the two Regent spaces by providing access north and south.
Enclosed by metal fence, gates, trees, and brick wall, the northern portion of the residential plaza is accessible through five entrances, three from Columbus Avenue and two from a sloped walkway parallel to a garage driveway entered from West 61st Street. The gates at all entrances should never be closed or locked, and several City enforcement actions have been mounted in past years to assure that the plaza remains open at all times. Wooden benches and brick ledges provide plentiful seating possibilities among the numerous somewhat overgrown trees and bushes. The dark atmosphere is fortunately dissipated by the light and warmth brought by afternoon sun.
The southern portion of residential plaza may be entered under a trellis from West 60th Street or from West 61st Street via the Beaumont residential plaza. More beige brick, wooden benches, and planting patterns confirm the family resemblance and generate a similar, muted environment. At least flowers vary the color palette. A small, elevated rectangular area deeper in the space provides privacy from the street. Among the regular space users are several retired individuals who like to feed the squirrels.https://apops.mas.org/pops/m070019/
Take for example Zuccotti Park … “a 33,000-square-foot (3,100 m2) publicly accessible park in Lower Manhattan, New York City, located in a privately owned public space (POPS) controlled by Brookfield Properties” (Wikipedia). The area was used by the Occupy Movement Protests in 2011.
The New York Courts ruled that the owners of the park had the right to maintain “its space in a hygenic, safe, and lawful condition, and to prevent it from being liable by the City or others for violations of the law.” The judge determined that the protesters did not demonstrate a First Amendment right to remain in Zuccotti Park.
After the park was reopened to the public, it was made known that protesters were still permitted to exercise their civil rights, but that this did not include sleeping and camping out at the park
In Kevin Baker fascinating article The Death of a Once Great City: The fall of New York and the urban crisis of affluence I highly recommend you read the whole thing but this is the excerpt relevant to our discussion today.
The decline of the subways is just the latest diminution of public life in New York. Over the past few decades, what used to be regarded as inviolable public space has been systematically rolled up and surrendered to unelected private authorities. Starting with Central Park in 1980, much of New York’s park system has been handed over to privately funded “conservancies,” supposedly subordinate to the city government but in truth all-powerful, and quite determined to put everything on a paying basis. A visit to the Central Park Zoo, once free, now costs $18 per adult, $13 per child. A “total experience” ticket for the world-renowned Bronx Zoo costs $36.95 for all “adults” over the age of twelve, $26.95 for younger children, and $31.95 for seniors—in a borough where the median yearly household income is $37,525. (Rental of a single-seat stroller at the zoo will cost you $10. A wheelchair is free but requires a $20 deposit, lest you try to scoot off with it.)https://harpers.org/archive/2018/07/the-death-of-new-york-city-gentrification/
By changing the nature of these spaces, by making them publicly available, rather than publicly owned the public is losing its rights to the city and more specifically to use the city in the ways that they need or want to. What we are left with is a sanitized version of the city aimed at specific (approved) users and uses. If you don’t fit in, you don’t get to stay.
One of the first recorded application for closed circuit television system (CCTV) was back in 1942. It was used to view the launch of V2 rockets in Germany. The early camera systems were primarily used for real time viewing, because of the lack of reliable video recording systems. The introduction of videocassette recorders (VCR) in 1970 led to the increased popularity of video surveillance.
Widespread use of camera surveillance begins with the development of cheaper recording systems of cassette tapes. These allowed the use of cameras to be independent of parts of the human operator’s work. The advantage being that they were useful devices for reviewing what had happened in the past at a certain location. As such the deterrent effect was secondary. The goal of the tapes was to provide evidence of what had happened. The systems still required human intervention in deciding when to review the tapes, in the reviewing of the tapes, and in the identification of the recorded individual.
The current advances of surveillance cameras is the move to take over the role of the human operator. The idea is that the surveillance system will first be able to identify individuals in front of the camera and then match them against a database of suspects.
Facial Recognition: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
In order to do this, cameras are connected to computers and begin to create systems that would enable them, through facial measurements, to identify individuals. Beginning with early pattern recognition these systems soon used large databases of facial images to “learn” how to differentiate between individuals. Once all these elements coalesce, together with networked communication, and access to databases of faces the groundwork was laid for live facial recognition (LFR).
LFR is the ability of the surveillance system to, in real time, identify individuals appearing in front of the camera and connect their images to any and all databases the operators may have access to. The system has overcome the limitations of humans to watch screens, identify actions, or need breaks. The result of these interconnected cameras, recognition systems, and databases is that: “While passive camera surveillance focused on acts of the individual, and facial recognition focuses on identity, live facial recognition brings the entire history of the surveilled to the attention of the observer” (Klang & Madison, forthcoming, italics original).
Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology have created an excellent report on facial recognition: The Perpetual Line-Up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America October 18, 2016.
While LFR is a growing form of surveillance, China has come much further than other states in the implementation and use.
Life Inside China’s Total Surveillance State.
This is not only a national issue. There is a global trade in all kinds of surveillance systems and right now China is the leading manufacturer and seller of life facial recognition systems.
Facial recognition systems are prone to two types of errors:
A “false negative” is when the face recognition system fails to match a person’s face to an image that is, in fact, contained in a database. In other words, the system will erroneously return zero results in response to a query.
A “false positive” is when the face recognition system does match a person’s face to an image in a database, but that match is actually incorrect. This is when a police officer submits an image of “Joe,” but the system erroneously tells the officer that the photo is of “Jack.”https://www.eff.org/pages/face-recognition
London’s Metropolitan Police’s controversial trial of facial recognition technology to spot suspects failed to work 80%. The researchers from the University of Essex said the problems were so bad that the use of facial recognition by the Met should be stopped immediately.
Civil rights NGO Big Brother Watch was outraged at the findings. “This report is an utterly damning conclusion to the police’s dangerous experimentation with live facial recognition. It confirms what we have long warned—it’s inaccurate, lawless and must be stopped urgently,” said director Silkie Carlo.London Police Facial Recognition ‘Fails 80% Of The Time And Must Stop Now’
Some cities are banning the technology…
Perpetual Arial Surveillance
The company Persistent Surveillance Systems “PSS develops highly capable, yet affordable, wide area surveillance systems for city, state, national, and international markets.”
Read Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project Persistent Aerial Surveillance: Do We Want To Go There, America? (2014)
In a bid to halt the surveillance, the grassroots organization Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and a couple of activists argued that the use of warrantless aerial surveillance technology violated the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett denial of their motion outlines a number of issues with current Fourth Amendment jurisprudence while also showing that the most recent prominent Fourth Amendment case decided by the Supreme Court is not as helpful as many civil libertarians had hoped.https://www.cato.org/blog/judge-allows-warrantless-aerial-surveillance-over-baltimore
And much much more…
There is a wide array of surveillance systems deployed by the police against (?) the citizenry. Public information about of these systems has proved difficult to get a hold of as neither law enforcement nor the vendors are interested in transparency. The EFF has a A Guide to Law Enforcement Spying Technology which provides a good overview over these types of surveillance systems.
There are many different forms of surveillance that does not get much attention. Some of these include:
- Automated license plate readers (read ACLU report You are being tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used To Record Americans’ Movements July 2013
- IMSI catchers (read EFF report “Gotta Catch ‘Em All: Understanding How IMSI-Catchers Exploit Cell Networks”. (28 June 2019).
- Tattoo recognition
- Gunshot recognition
- Gait recognition
Surveillance, what is it good for?
Police use of these national security-style surveillance techniques – justified as cost-effective techniques that avoid human bias and error – has grown hand-in-hand with the increased militarization of law enforcement. Extensive research, including my own, has shown that these expansive and powerful surveillance capabilities have exacerbated rather than reduced bias, overreach and abuse in policing, and they pose a growing threat to civil liberties.https://theconversation.com/high-tech-surveillance-amplifies-police-bias-and-overreach-140225
Alongside the ability of technology to enable increased surveillance we have seen the rapid growth in the ability of technology to allow for sousveillance. The word Surveillance is portmanteau (a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others)
The term “sousveillance”, coined by Steve Mann, stems from the contrasting French words sur, meaning “above”, and sous, meaning “below”, i.e. “surveillance” denotes the “eye-in-the-sky” watching from above, whereas “sousveillance” denotes bringing the camera or other means of observation down to human level, either physically (mounting cameras on people rather than on buildings), or hierarchically (ordinary people doing the watching, rather than higher authorities or architectures doing the watching).(wikipedia: Sousveillance)
Steve Mann has been working with wearable computers and the precursors to smart glasses systems such as Google Glass (its not really dead) since the early 80s.
While most of us are not wearing computers or cameras, we have become camera carrying individuals. Whether through our smartphones or through devices such as dashcams, nest doorbells, home security systems we are recording a increasingly large part of our lives.
The connection between citizen sousveillance of state power (most often the police) is today a commonplace occurrence. One of the earliest and most infamous instances was the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991.
On March 3, 1991 Rodney King tried to elude traffic stop because he had been drinking and was on probation for a robbery conviction, eventually stopped his car in front of a apartment building. A resident came out to videotape the scene, filming four white officers beating and kicking King, including after he was on the ground. He turns over the video to a local TV station, it quickly spreads and creates international outrage. Despite the video of the beating the trial resulted in an acquittal of all four LAPD officers involved. This injustice sparked the 1992 LA riots.
LA 92 – Official Film Trailer | National Geographic
The rioting spread throughout the LA metropolitan area, thousands of people rioted over a 6-day period. Widespread looting, assault, arson, and murder occurred during the riots, and estimates of property damage were over $1 billion. The Governor sent in the California Army National Guard, and President George H. W. Bush deployed the 7th Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division. Consequently, order and peace were restored throughout L.A. County, but 63 people were killed, 2,383 people were injured, with more than 12,000 arrests.
Other studies have shown that most police brutality goes unreported. In 1982, the federal government funded a “Police Services Study,” in which over 12,000 randomly selected citizens were interviewed in three metropolitan areas. The study found that 13.6 percent of those surveyed claimed to have had cause to complain about police service (including verbal abuse, discourtesy and physical abuse) in the previous year. Yet only 30 percent of those filed formal complaints. A 1998 Human Rights Watch report stated that in all 14 precincts it examined, the process of filing a complaint was “unnecessarily difficult and often intimidating.”
Statistics on the use of physical force by law enforcement are available. For example, an extensive U.S. Department of Justice report on police use of force released in 2001 indicated that in 1999, “approximately 422,000 people 16 years old and older were estimated to have had contact with police in which force or the threat of force was used.” Research shows that measures of the presence of black and Hispanic people and majority/minority income inequality are related positively to average annual civil rights criminal complaints.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Police_brutality_in_the_United_States#Recent_incidents
It is a sad fact that police brutality and racial profiling is underreported and often ignored or disbelieved. With sousveillance we are regularly shown instances of police violence. It is important to remember that, despite the increase in sousveillance, these are the exceptions that are caught on tape.
Oscar Grant III was a 22-year-old African-American man who was killed in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009 by BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California.
On November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice, a 12-year old African-American boy, was killed in Cleveland, Ohio by Timothy Loehmann, a 26-year-old police officer. Rice was carrying a replica toy Airsoft gun; Loehmann shot him almost immediately after arriving on the scene.
On April 12, 2015, Freddie Carlos Gray Jr., a 25-year-old black man, received catastrophic neck injuries during his arrest prompting 6 officers of the Baltimore Police Department to be initially charged and indicted on murder and manslaughter.
The 2015 Texas pool party incident: a civil disturbance that occurred and a police office was filmed violently restraining, a fifteen-year-old black girl wearing a swimsuit, on the ground. He later drew his handgun during the same incident. Grand jury declined to indict officer involved in incident.
On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old African American man, was fatally shot during a traffic stop by Jeronimo Yanez. Castile was driving with his partner Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter when at 9:00 p.m. their vehicle was pulled over. After being asked for his license and registration, Castile told Officer Yanez that he had a firearm (Castile was licensed to carry) to which Yanez replied, “Don’t reach for it then”, and Castile said “I’m, I, I was reaching for…” Yanez said “Don’t pull it out”, Castile replied “I’m not pulling it out”, and Reynolds said “He’s not…” Yanez repeated “Don’t pull it out” and then shot at Castile at close range seven times, hitting him five times. Reynolds posted a live stream video on Facebook in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, which prompted the incident to achieve national notoriety
2017: Video key, lawyer says: Settlement reached in JPD police brutality case
Brown’s case against former JPD Officer Justin Roberts and the city of Jackson stems from a February 2017 police stop that was captured on cellphone video by a bystander. The release of the video went viral and was picked up by several online news organizations. In it, Roberts is seen struggling with Brown, who is handcuffed, and appears to knee Brown before slamming him up against a trailer. Roberts then attempts to land a punch to Brown’s face.https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2019/06/20/jpd-brutality-case-video-settlement-reached-jackson-ms-caught-on-cellphone/1509544001/
July 2019: Montgomery County Police Officer Charged With Assault After Video Surfaces Of Brutal Arrest
A Montgomery County Police officer was charged with excessive use of force Tuesday after a video showing a suspect under arrest with a knee to his head came to light last week. It is the second recent case of police misconduct in the county.
Officer Kevin Moris was charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office in the arrest of 19-year-old Arnaldo Pesoa of Silver Spring. Pesoa was charged with drug possession with intent to distribute and second-degree assault against Moris.https://dcist.com/story/19/07/10/montgomery-county-police-officer-charged-with-assault-after-video-surfaces-of-brutal-arrest/
Sept 2019: Video alleges police brutality in Albany
The man who shot the video says police hit a woman, identified as 26-year-old Brianna Biddings, several times before pulling her out of her car. Witnesses say she was double parked, and police tried to get her out of the car and she wouldn’t let go of the steering wheel. The video shows police removing her from the car and placing her under arrest.https://www.news10.com/news/local-news/video-alleges-police-brutality-in-albany/
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. A white police officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”. During the final three minutes Floyd was motionless and had no pulse while Chauvin ignored onlookers’ pleas to remove his knee, which he did not do until medics told him to.
With the proliferation of smartphones we have seen overwhelming evidence of police brutality, however even with this visual evidence there has been little or no reform. Yet.
On May 31 Vox published the article Caught on camera, police explode in rage and violence across the US: America’s occupation by militarized police is in full view it included a short list of some of the instances of police violence caught on film over the past few days
- A New York City police officer tore a protective mask off of a young black man and assaulted him with pepper spray while the victim peacefully stood with his hands up
- New York City police officers, in two separate vehicles, rammed a crowd in a street. Separately, an officer in a moving police vehicle slammed someone with a car door and drove away
- Security forces in Minneapolis marched down a quiet residential street and shot paint canisters at residents who were watching from their private porch
- Police in Louisville raided a public square, confiscating and destroying water and milk, which is used to counter irritants like pepper spray
- Atlanta police stopped two black people, inexplicably shooting them with tasers and tearing them out of their car
- A New York City officer used two hands to throw a woman to the ground, reportedly calling her a “stupid fucking bitch”
- San Antonio Police used tear gas against people. So did Dallas police. So did Los Angeles police. So did DC police. The list goes on.
- Many people reported being shot by rubber bullets. MSNBC host Ali Velshi says he was shot after state police fired unprovoked into a peaceful rally. A freelance photographer in Minneapolis says she went permanently blind in her left eye after being shot by police.
- Police have brutalized lawmakers participating in demonstrations, including New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie
Lawyer T. Greg Doucette and mathematician Jason Miller have been working to compile the videos in the Google Sheet titled “GeorgeFloyd Protest – police brutality videos on Twitter.” The activists have also created a Google Drive with backups of all the videos.
Having all video evidence of police violence documented in one place helps counter the argument that these are just isolated incidents. “When they’re shared as one-offs, you see a familiar pattern,” Doucette tells Vice. “The victim ‘was no angel’ or ‘wasn’t perfect’ or ‘just should have complied,’ and the officer is ‘just one bad apple,’ or ‘we shouldn’t rush to judgment,’ or ‘you don’t know what happened before the video started rolling.’ ”https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/06/george-floyd-public-spreadsheet-police-violence-videos.html
This type of collection also forms part of the sousveillance practice.
Mapping US Police Killings
Here is the data. Here is an interactive map of the United States that shows the 1098 people killed by police in each state in 2019. Click through to the link to search on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis and to see a variety of graphs showing the disproportionate rate at which black Americans are killed—3 times more likely—compared to white people, how police shootings do not correlate with crime data, and how 99% of police killings did not result in officers being charged with a crime.Mappingpoliceviolence.org