When we first mapped out the locations of surveillance cameras installed in public places in Chelsea (a residential neighborhood in Manhattan), we did so in December 2001, that is, only two months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. We located a total of 165 such cameras, which made Chelsea more heavily surveilled than any other area we'd mapped to date, except for Greenwich Village, which was (and still is) the most heavily surveilled residential neighborhood in Manhattan. But Chelsea was worse than Greenwich Village in that it contained a block -- between 9th and 10th Avenues, and between 15th and 16th Streets -- that had so many cameras (a total of 43 of them) that they couldn't be indicated on any map without creating a magnified detail. During our walking tours of this area, we cited this super-surveilled block as an image of what New York City's future would look like if then-current trends continued.
Before going on, it is worth noting that our understanding of why this particular block should be watched by so many cameras has changed over the last three years. At first, we thought that the proprietors of the Chelsea Market, which occupies this entire block, were worried about organized criminal activity ("the mafia"). Then, prompted by remarks made by a news crew from CNN, we thought that the Chelsea Market was run by the mafia; there was supposed to be a federal organized-crime task-force housed in a building on 16th Street. Bolstered by reports coming from residents of the area, our current hypothesis is that the Chelsea Market is (also) the homebase for a federal anti-terrorist ("emergency response") team. This hypothesis is also bolstered by our discovery that a block located very close to the Chelsea Market is the NYC headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Agency, a division of the Department of Justice.
In April 2004, we returned to Chelsea and mapped a second time. So there's no confusion, we must make clear that we slightly decreased the area under consideration: we didn't map 24th Street, which will be included in a separate and as-of-yet unmade map, nor the south side of 14th Street, which we have included in our most recent map of Greenwich Village. Taking this decrease into account, back in December 2001 there were a total of 155 surveillance cameras in the Chelsea area.
OK: according to our most recent map, there are now a total of 368 cameras in Chelsea: 337 installed on privately owned buildings; 14 installed on buildings occupied by the federal government; 10 installed on city-owned poles and/or lamp-posts; 4 red-light traffic cameras; and 3 installed on buildings occupied by the government of the State of New York. That is to say, over the course of the last 2.5 years, the number of cameras in the area has more than doubled. There are now more cameras in Chelsea than there are in Midtown Manhattan ("only" 284), Times Square (258), or the United Nations (179).
What accounts for this incredible increase? Is Chelsea a "hot spot" for crime? No, it isn't; crime is down there, as it is everywhere in the city. It is quite possible that, like Greenwich Village, Chelsea is becoming the home for wealthy people who install cameras simply to get discounts on their property-insurance rates. But it is also possible that Chelsea is becoming the new homebase for the intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement agencies that used to be housed in the World Trade Center. Note well that Chelsea now contains a second block (the one between 10th and 11th Avenues and between 15th and 16th Streets) that has so many cameras that they can only be depicted in a magnified detail, and that this block is right below the DEA/DOJ headquarters.
By e-mail SCP@notbored.org
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998