Surveillance cameras in the Garment District

Created in April 2003, our first map of the Garment District – the area in Manhattan south of 38th Street, north of 30th Street, east of 11th Avenue and west of Sixth Avenue – was intended to set a baseline. The Republican National Convention was to be held in New York City the next year (2004). Knowing that the convention would “require” the installation of many new surveillance cameras in public places, we intended to return to the area, once the circus had left town, and count the cameras a second time. But we were unable to make a second map in 2005, as we had planned. We also never published a commentary on what the first map documents.

Created in August 2011, our long-awaited second map documents an increase of more than 200 percent in the number of cameras in the Garment District: a total of 585, up from 239. As was the case in 2003, the overwhelming majority of these cameras are installed on privately owned buildings (531 out of 585). But the Garment District has also experienced significant growth in the numbers of cameras installed on city-owned property or government buildings (35 of them, up from 20) and cameras that are “elevated,” that is, installed on the tops of buildings and perhaps operated by the NYPD or some other government agency (21, up from only 2).

So far, the Garment District is the most densely surveilled area that we have mapped. Unlike SoHo and the Lower East Side, where the density is 10 cameras per square block, the ratio in this area of midtown Manhattan is almost 15 cameras per square block. In fact, there were so many cameras on one particular block that we had to create a “detail” to depict it legibly. Significantly, this one block is the location of no less than five elevated cameras, as well as 34 private cameras (!) and one camera operated by the NYPD. (There is a sign that says, “NYPD Security Camera In Area,” but “area” is too vague a word to offer any real assurance that a particular spot within that “area” is in fact being watched at any given time.)

A single, immense building occupies this super-surveilled block. What could it be? A precinct of the NYPD? The regional offices of the Department of Homeland Security? No. It’s Macy’s. Forty cameras just to watch the exteriors of a single department store?! Something’s obviously wrong.

-- 11 August 2011

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