surveillance cameras in SoHo

"SoHo" -- the area south of Houston Street, north of Canal Street, east of Broadway and west of 6th Avenue -- is one of Manhattan's best-known neighborhoods, thanks in part to the many artists and musicians who moved to the area, which was dominated by partially abandoned warehouses, back in the 1970s. Thirty years later, SoHo is still home to several art galleries and museums, but it has, since the glory years of the 1980s, become a tourist-invested shopping center for fashionable clothes, shoes and jewelry. As in Greenwich Village and Lower East Side, a certain super-gentrification has started: the demolition of the cool buildings ("funky" old warehouses, "loft spaces," and the like) and their replacement with steel-and-glass things that look totally out of place ("uncool").

In November 2002, as part of our contribution to a horrible show at the New Museum, which happens to be located within the confines of the "New" SoHo, we mapped out the locations of publically installed surveillance cameras in the area. To our surprise, we only found 70 such cameras: 66 installed on privately owned buildings or residences; two installed on city-owned poles or traffic equipment; and two installed on a federally owned building. On average, SoHo had only two surveillance cameras per square block, while most Manhattan neighborhoods had twice that number.

Quite costly to operate, video surveillance is only "worth it" when you have property valuable enough to be worth watching; it's not worth it if you don't have property worth insuring. And so it would appear that SoHo isn't completely gentrified; it still doesn't meet the precondition (the primary justification) for the widespread installation of surveillance cameras. Perhaps property-owners are loathe to deface their buildings' facades with cameras and the wires they require. We look forward to up-dating this map, after, say, two years, and seeing what the rate of increase (if any) has been.

-- November 2002

We did not update our map of SoHo after two years (see above). Nor did we offer many walking tours of the area; fortunately/unfortunately, there just weren’t enough cameras – or rather there weren’t enough interesting cameras – to build a walking tour around.

In our new map of the area, we discover and reveal that SoHo is no longer a place in which relatively few surveillance cameras are watching public places. There are now 292 of them in SoHo, which means that, over the last nine years, they have grown by a rate of 500 percent. The overwhelming majority of these cameras (290 of them) are installed on privately owned buildings. One of the remaining two cameras is operated by the Department of Transportation; the other is elevated (perched at the top of a residential building), and so its owner is virtually impossible to establish.

A total of 292 surveillance cameras means that there are 10 cameras per square block, which is the same density that we recently found in the Lower East Side, where the recent rate of increase has been 600 percent. And so SoHo, once a slow poke, has joined the race.

-- July 2011

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