Surveillance Cameras in Midtown Manhattan

In January 2002 -- in anticipation of large-scale protests against the World Economic Forum, which was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at the end of that month -- the New York Surveillance Camera Players (SCP-New York) scouted out, mapped and publicized the locations of public surveillance cameras in Midtown Manhattan (the area between 45th and 54th Streets and between 2d and 5th Avenues). The Waldorf-Astoria itself is in the heart of this area: to be precise, the hotel occupies the entire city block between 49th and 50th Streets and between Park and Lexington Avenues. The map disclosed the locations of a total of 190 cameras: 171 installed on privately owned buildings; 6 on foreign embassies (the United Nations is close by); 5 on city-owned buildings or poles; 5 on buildings owned by the US federal government; and 3 installed on private residences. (As mentioned elsewhere, cell-phone repeaters were mistakenly labeled as "NYPD microwave relays.")

In May 2003, the SCP-New York returned to Midtown Manhattan and, starting from scratch, mapped the area once again. Though this second count was made only a year-and-a-third after the first one, there was a dramatic increase in the total number of cameras spotted: from 190 to 284, an increase of approximately 150 percent. Almost all of the new cameras are privately owned; hardly any new city-owned or embassy/government cameras have been installed. (Note that not all of the "new" cameras are actually new. Some of them were already installed back in January 2002, but were missed by the SCP-New York's spotter.) Of the new number, 258 are installed on private buildings; 9 are installed on foreign embassies; 7 are on city-owned property; 6 are on US federal government buildings; 3 are "elevated" cameras (perched atop buildings and pointing out horizontally, over the city, instead of down upon a particular part of it); and one is a Web cam. (What were previously listed as "residential cameras" have been subsumed under the "private" category. The Web cam isn't new, but wasn't placed on the original map because, strictly speaking, it fell just outside of the map's boundaries.)

According to the map made by the New York Civil Liberties Union in November 1998, there are only 65 surveillance cameras in Midtwon Manhattan. This means that, in the last five years (between 1998 and 2003), the number of cameras in Midtown has more than quadrupled. This rate of increase is even higher than that in Times Square Times Square, where the number of cameras tripled between November 1998 and September 2002. But remember: the last maps of Times Square (a total of 258 surveillance cameras) and Greenwich Village (231 total cameras) were made in September 2002 and May 2001, respectively. And so it's quite possible that either of these neighborhoods has (even) more cameras than Midtown (i.e., over 300). But, until new maps of these neighborhoods are made, we can say that Midtown currently has more surveillance cameras than any other neighborhood in Manhattan (approximately six every square block).

-- 26 May 2003.

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