by Taha Mahmood, December 2010.
The Manchester City Center was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1996. The City Center was later re-designed as part of a larger regional planning initiative. The space of the city-center at Manchester has been a locus of mercantile activity since the Roman times. During the blitz of WWII it was completely destroyed for the first time. Since then the City center has been shaped by various spatial policies each reflecting the ideological stance of the political party in power. In the UK, policing reforms were introduced during the Eighties, which sought to change the role of the police from re-active to pro-active.
24X7 monitoring of spaces with CCTV cameras came became universal as a result of these reforms. CCTV was projected as a prevention for crimes. However there is no evidence to support these claims. This annotative essays brings together many themes like risk, information harvesting, policy frameworks and surveillance technology to think about ways in which the idea of a public space have been articulated in UK.
At 11:00 am on Saturday June 15th 1996 3000 kilograms of explosives was detonated at the heart of city centre in Manchester. The explosives were placed in a van stationed by the side of a nearby street. The impact of explosion left around three hundred people injured. No one died. It is claimed that over a million square feet of office and retail space was destroyed. 1200 buildings in the vicinity were affected. Seven hundred businesses had to be relocated. The explosion made more than two third retail capacity of the city centre, redundant. The explosives, as we all know, were planted by the IRA. (click here for a visual record of the moment of bombing)
If on the one hand the bomb explosion at city centre of Manchester, wrecked the social, entrepreneurial, symbolic and spatial heart of the city, then on the other it gave an opportunity to planners to create a new narrative of space in Manchester.
For much of the nineties planners were trying to push for a new spatial vision for the city. In this new avtaar the City council decided to work closely with the local business establishment to formulate an urban vision for Manchester.
Manchester city planners bid to host the Olympic games in 1992 and in 1996. Both bids were unsuccessful. The bombing of the city center, therefore, was considered as an opportunity to implement the vision of spatial redesign of Manchester, which had been thwarted earlier by unforeseen circumstances.
An overarching trope of regeneration was used to express the vision of a new city center. Under this scheme erstwhile urban environments were to be regenerated as safe environments. Urban space was to be viewed more like a renaissance space, a space, which is emancipatory, entrepreneurial, and orderly, instead of merely a space for people to work. Issues of urban fear and insecurity were tackled through a narrative of risk and confidence rather than relying on a traditional style of policing, where police was only supposed to respond once a crime has been committed. It was in this regard that the technology and politics behind close circuit cameras came to play a crucial role in changing the nature of space and society around urban spaces. (maybe roisin debate?)
A brief history of city center
The parcel of land on which the present day Manchester city is constructed was once part of bigger territory, which used to come under the jurisdiction of a Roman fort of Mamucium. Mamucium was a garrison fort. Goods and commodities for the consumption for the Roman troops stationed inside the fort were supplied by local communities. A civilian vicus therefore grew nearby, to cater to the requirements of Mamucium. Since then much of the industrial and trade related activity of the surrounding region taken place on this space. Over centuries this space evolved into a vibrant trading centre. The city of Manchester in a way grew around it. By 18th century the first Cotton exchange was set up at Exchange Street to complement the growing trade in cotton produced from the factories. In 19th Century the city centre was made up of two covered markets. One was called the Smithfield Market whilst the other went by the name of Market place. These markets were open daily and were particularly known for the sale of fresh meat, fish, potatoes, turnips, and cattle. We could imagine a bazaar like vibrancy to the place, where everything from people to goods would have spilled out on the street. In this atmosphere shopkeepers must have exercised a certain type of social surveillance by keeping an eye on goods and people manning it. Just like in a factory, where a supervisor keeps an eye over workers. When Engels visited Manchester towards the middle of 19th century he was struck by the way in which the city was organized into distinct sectors. If one end of the city was earmarked for the factories, the corporate elite lived on the other end but worked in the city center.
Engels observes the city center as thus:
Manchester contains, at its heart, a rather extended commercial district, perhaps half a mile long and about as broad, and consisting almost wholly of offices and warehouses. Nearly the whole district is abandoned by dwellers, and is lonely and deserted at night; only watchmen and policemen traverse its narrow lanes with their dark lanterns. This district is cut through by certain main thoroughfares upon which the vast traffic concentrates, and in which the ground level is lined with brilliant shops. In these streets the upper floors are occupied, here and there, and there is a good deal of life upon them until late at night.
(Condition of the Working Class in England, by Engels, 1845, The Great Towns)
In the last century or so city center at Manchester emerged as the locus of far more trade activity. We could imagine that city center must have been full with life on the day when IRA's bomb blew it apart. But the IRA bombing was not the first time when city centre was destroyed. The first time when the city centre was razed to ground was during the Manchester Blitz of WWII. German Luftwaffe raided the city in December 1940. Almost five hundred tons of high explosives coupled with two thousand incendiary bombs were showered on the city killing close to seven hundred people and injuring many others. (For a 'Unique Photographic record of damage sustained by Manchester City centre on the nights of December 22 and 23rd 1940' please see here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ0xrje7YY4!)
Post WWII, the city centre was rebuilt just like rest of Manchester and other major urban centres all over England. From the point of view of spatial policy, Manchester city centre have evolved more rapidly in the past seventy years than in say, past two hundred. At each stage of its evolution it has reflected dominant themes of contemporary spatial policy.
History of planning
In the fifties, The City of Manchester Plan (1945) was executed. This plan reflected the spatial policy of reconstruction, which resulted in a movement of mass housing away from the city centre. The big idea back then, was to create spaces dedicated to retail and offices. (See plan.)
The Nicholson Plan (1945) played a key role in envisioning the redesigning of city centre. The scheme was that the 'old grimy, out of date irrational buildings of the Victorian era be swept away, to be replaced with bold, new buildings of the twentieth century'. City centre was imagined as an island of trade amidst a sea of housing.
If on the one hand Sixties was a decade of retail decentralization in Britain. The policy thrust on the other hand was more on revitalization of existing retail areas. In 1964 a planning application to construct a regional shopping arcade, which was bigger than the existing city centre, was therefore rejected to protect the city centre from going into oblivion. Subsequently in 1967 a plan called the City Centre was considered which focused on extensive transport proposals and promotion trade related activities (Williams, 2003, p-76). This development led to a weakening of the power of local authority however in-situ developments were carried on in the next decade during the urban renewal programs of the seventies.
The Eighties was the decade of Thatcherite led urban policies. By then, the rhetoric of redevelopment was in focus. The urban policies from 1960's onwards were gradually allowed to fade into irrelevance. It was also the time when great regional planning initiatives of the 1970's were scaled down to the local level.
A new plan called the City centre Local Plan was introduced in 1984, which had a major impact on land use in and around the city centre. Integrated public transport, mixed land use, commercial balance, residential development, active-street frontages were some of the key features of this plan. The idea was to share. Public and private players were encouraged to come together. But ironically towards the end of eighties regional planning was back in focus.
Thatcher's regime started in with a clear non-interventionist urban policy. Regional policy was shunned in favor of private initiatives. In 1979 the government introduced the concept of Enterprise Zone to make opportunities for private sector development. No planning controls were implemented in enterprise zones. At first eleven areas were designated as enterprise zones. Then by mid-eighties fourteen more areas were added to the designated enterprise zone list. Firms operating in enterprise zones were given a ten-year tax holiday (they were not obliged to pay property tax for a ten year period). But later it was found out that Enterprise Zone experiment did not result in a huge creation jobs as was projected earlier and the costs were not worth the effort. Local communities also did not support it as a result economy in urban areas start to slump.
So under the government, under Thatcher, started to borrowed ideas to revive the cities, which were in vogue during the Labour government of 1945-50 era. Clement Attlee was the Prime Minister back in 1945 when the term 'regional planning' was introduced. Regional planning referred to 'economic planning with a view to development of regions, which, for one reason or another, are suffering serious economic problems, as demonstrated by indices such as high unemployment or low incomes in relation to the rest of the nation' (Hall, 2002, p-55). The Thatcher government re-introduced regional planning through a new name, the Urban Development Corporations. The UDCs 'assembled sites, reclaimed and serviced derelict lands, and provided land for development, they could also provide necessary infrastructure for development, especially roads and could improve the local environment (Hall, 2002, p-134). The Central Manchester Development Corporation (CMDC) was established in 1988 to develop 188 hectares of Manchester (http://legislation.data.gov.uk/uksi/1988/1144/made/data.htm) However CMDC was dissolved in 1996.
When the IRA bombed city centre in 1996 the spatial planning in the UK had shifted to a 'new' theme called regeneration where public-private partnership had became the dominant approach. Under this scheme local authorities re-emerged as a key player in decision-making process. Strategic long-term perspective was reintroduced with an overall emphasis on regional growth.
During the nineties the city centre at Manchester was developed to cater to a wider region covering councils of Manchester, Salford and Trafford and development corporations of Manchester and Trafford Park. The proposal was to situate major regional functions of government, banking and professional services together with a clustering of retailing, arts, entertainment and higher education services. All this was however buried in institutional quagmire as key actors belonging to various governmental departments were reluctant to relegate their areas of control. Things changed substantially after the bombings. Manchester City pride was introduced as a policy initiative to restructure Manchester economically, spatially, culturally and locally.(Regeneration PR video, as part of the credits of Capital Circus:http://pad.ma/YI/00:18:49.136,00:20:30.458)
Envisionning the City Center
The idea for the planning guideline called the Manchester City pride came out from two strategic documents. One was the City's Development Guide (1996) and the other was called the Planning Guidance of the Bomb Damaged Area (1996. These planning guidelines were incorporated in the Unitary Development Plan of Manchester (http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/494/planning-local_plans/2148/unitary_development_plan_udp/3)
Whilst the City Pride focused more on entrepreneurial aspect, the two other guidelines covered the broad developmental aspects of planning for the region. It is in City Development Guide of 1996 that we perhaps get a sense of things to come. The idea, of developing a city centre which installs a sense of place, has a high quality of design, has an equitable mix of density has a space which could have mixed use and which address all security concerns, was mooted. The broad vision seemed to make Manchester into in an attractive place to study, work, live in and visit (http://pad.ma/HT/00:00:00.000,00:00:50.339).
The City centre Environmental Protection Strategy (1994) was instrumental in implementation of a central area CCTV strategy to 'strengthen aspects of community safety and of emerging public concerns'.
In other words one could argue that in the last seventy years the Manchester city centre grew from a being merely a place for conducting economic transactions to something where transaction of goods, commodities, services and culture became an integral aspect of the whole set up. The council, which was in charge of the city centre in the early post war period had to relinquish some of its control during the decade of seventies and eighties but after the bombing, it re-emerges as a key player as a local decision maker.
During the dying years of the eighties and early nineties, just prior to the bombing, a new rhetoric, of 'Safe Cities Program' to police urban spaces, was slowly emerging. A policy initiative comprising of twelve different programs collectively called, Action for Cities was launched in 1988. Spatial policy of the immediate post war era had pushed populations away from the city centers, this trend reversed in the eighties as people slowly started to settle in the newly developed residential spaces around city centres
It was around this time that the police establishment published a landmark circular called, 'Crime Prevention' (1984). The core argument discussed in this document was that to maintain a perpetual public peace, policing needs to be 'proactive' rather than just being 'reactive', the stress was to involve an entire local community in policing. The broad idea of Safe Cities Program was to, 'reduce crime, to lessen fear of crime, and to create safer cities where economic enterprise and community life can flourish'. In other words with changing times, the institution of the state was re-creating conditions where institutions of the market can function without an excessive fear of crime. We could assume that an institutional tilt towards installing CCTV in virtually all public spaces in the UK has evolved with the Safe Cities program.
CCTV as cure-all
There is no evidence available anywhere, which could comprehensively suggest a correlationship between the use of CCTV and downfall in criminal activities, something which could have a universal application. Yet, CCTV technology seems to be favored especially with those who mattered in the government. As the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, once suggested in 1996,
CCTV is overwhelmingly popular. People want it in their towns because it makes them feel safer, reduces the fear of crime, and lets them use and enjoy their high street again. The money which we are putting in CCTV is partly a response to this public support, but it is also an indication of our evidence that it is worth it.
(as cited in Goold, 2004, p-35)
This seems a bit strange. Why do governments/corporations tend to prefer projecting CCTV cameras as a deterrent for social crimes when there is no data to supporits curative claims?What about displacement of criminal activities to those areas where there are no CCTV's? We still do not know whether CCTV displaces crime or reduces it.http://pad.ma/HU/00:02:23.640,00:13:49.112
Use of CCTV to sort people out
CCTV monitors and record visual data about people, which could be archived, retrieved and analysed for purposes unbeknownst to those whose images are captured. Some people argue that presence of CCTV leads to internalization of certain behavioral norms, which may lead to disciplining of the body. Others contend that the disciplining of the body may just as well be an act. Such type of behavior may lead to a complex network of interplay between the people and technology. Therefore it could be thought that CCTV provides an illusion of safety, which adds a feel good factor to a projected narrative of 'community safety'.
CCTV is often considered as a panoptic dream. An optical-mechanical technique for giving direction to predetermined social, spatial and economic processes. Topography of a space gets altered when it comes under the gaze of a network of CCTV cameras. The horizontal and vertical grid screen of a CCTV control room perhaps signifies new topographies.
Just like in a democracy all citizens are entitled to equal rights, so too, one could argue, that all citizens irrespective of the fact whether they are legitimate consumers or not must have an equal right to access public spaces of consumption, like city centers.However, in City centers, malls and other public places of consumption, CCTV may be used to sort out genuine consumers from fake ones. Sorting takes place either through categorical seduction or through categorical suspicion. Categories are often based on an assemblage of data on consumer demographics, psychographics, life styles and shopping habits. Such sorting may lead one to debate about the primacy of rights of citizens over those of consumers particularly to access a public space of consumption like a city center (http://pad.ma/IA/00:05:49.119,00:06:33.399)
Another aspect of CCTV technology is information harvesting. Spatial and social geography of a place gets read as data, which is fed into a centralized database. These databases are codified and collated to generate patterns in a pyramidal hierarchy. (http://pad.ma/HY/00:06:15.500,00:12:38.552) Aspects such garnering of personal information related to bodies and identities of people are also shared by other technologies, which go under the name of National Identity Cards systems. National identity card systems are now in place over a hundred countries worldwide.
The National Identity Card system is perhaps the result of a deep unfulfilled desire of a state apparatus, to know who all its legitimate citizens. In order it govern it is important to know who the state is governing. The possession a centralized database of identities of all its citizens is the key to the fulfillment of this desire. A centralized database becomes a utopian space. An ideal location to store in neatly arranged digital patterns, a uniform record of personal identities of all citizens. Just like with an aid of a network of CCTV cameras, one can perpetually look at a space and monitor movements of bodies of people, so too with a national identity card system, one can perpetually look at people by tracking the traces of their unique identities left over at the end of every sundry transaction. Any data or data-body, which deviates from norm could be viewed with suspicion.
One could perhaps think of a city centre or a mall as an ideal space designed to entice citizens to consume commodities and services or one could think of a nation state as an ideal space designed to manage communities as they live, work and exist in a utilitarian framework.
It does not come as a surprise perhaps that when men dreamt of Utopias or ideal spaces they also dreamt of tracking identities of people living in these spaces. For instance, Lewis Mumford has this to write about a Utopia imagined by HG Wells:
'Perhaps the most remarkable feature of utopian organization is the registration of every individual, with his name, numeral, finger-print, changes of residence and changes in life; all of which is filed in a huge central filing office, to become part of a permanent file upon the individual's death. Utopian registration gets our travellers into hot water, for they are naturally mistaken for their utopian doubles; but outside of its use in the story this little device seems strangely beside the point, and it arose, I believe, out of Mr. Wells' temperamental regard for tidiness-tidiness on a planetary scale-the tagging and labelling of a well-conducted shop'.
Tidiness on a planetary scale is a grand dream. Maybe at the end of the day, just like, a network of CCTV cameras help some people to keep a city centre neat and tidy, so too a network of databases linking personal identities help a state to keep a nation neat and tidy. The idea in a way is to watch without being too obvious about it. (http://pad.ma/HX/00:02:47.399,00:03:56.000
Bureaucratic organization is common, to those who sit behind a switchboard to stare at a wall full of illuminated screens and to those who man personal identity databases. Both look for patterns of behavior, which could be divided into certain type of norms and deviancies, tidy and untidy. (http://pad.ma/HW/00:05:32.000,00:07:24.320
However unlike a vacuum cleaner which if directed properly will only suck diffident dirt particles while leaving other objects untouched, a network of CCTV cameras or a National Identity Card system suck everyone out. All consumers are perhaps suspects in the eyes of a CCTV operator and all citizens are probable aliens in the view of those who will look after digitized sets of unique identities.
The debate essentially seems to be about different interpretations of control and care. These technologies are installed with the premise of providing care however it could be used as instruments for greater social control.
How events shape policy
An event can appear as a link between what was and what will be. Certain events may have occurred as a result of our perceived sense of injustice in the not so significant past but they all have a potential to signify our future. A big event could have a big impact on our collective future. If we imagine the bomb blast, which ripped off the city centre on 15/06 at Manchester in England, as a big event, then a new city centre with comprehensive CCTV observation system could be thought of as a significant result of that event.
Similarly,if we think about the Mumbai terrorist attacks, as a big event, then we can imagine the scheme for a national roll out of, till then bureaucratically and politically stalled, National Identity Card program as a consequence of that event. Mumbai was attacked in November 2008. UIDAI was established in February 2009. It took just three months for the government of India to establish an institutional body to map all Indians.
Specific reasons might have triggered the terrorist attacks, yet responses to these events do not appear to be designed to address those particular causes but it covers everyone on a generalized spatial and social scale. It appears that while formulating policy led solutions to social problems, the nation is imagined as a body and policy for all as a cure. A part, represents the whole. A dent in Mumbai, becomes a dent on India. If a part is ailing then the whole is ailing too. Can we take parts as a whole? We don't know for sure.
We do know that the grammar of policy responses to these big events is often punctuated with a language of risk. For instance a document titled, Strategic Overview of the UID program lists seven different types of risks which UID may have to face, these are articulated as, 'Adoption risks, political risks, Enrolment risks, risks of scale, technology risks, privacy and security risks, and sustainability risks' (Unique Identification Authority of India-Strategy Overview, Project Risk, 2010, p-38). UID is sold as a device, which will lower the risk of poor people being shunned by the system and so on.
Risk, space and CCTV
Risk in insurance terms means a deviation of a future result from its expected value, culturally it might signify loss, and politically it might indicate fluctuation of power. In terms of a policy response to a big event, which had left a lasting impact on the perception of security of a city, the discourse of risk may assume a central position.
Ever since the WWII, spaces have been continuously evolving as a response to the changing economic environment in the UK. The case for alteration of spaces is pitched through various schemes. The State always projects itself as a guardian in these schemes. At a macro-scale, schemes are packaged with terms like regional planning, reconstruction, regeneration etc to build new spaces over existing ones, while on a micro-level, terms like risk, security are used to manage and alter spaces.
In some spaces, like the City center at Manchester, CCTV technology can be seen as a favored tool to measure social and spatial risk on a micro-scale.Risk is increasingly used to define micro-spaces, for instance, a UK Home Office report on use of CCTV in car parks, categorizes it as follows 'it was possible to classify the car parks into one of three categories: high, medium or low risk of crime'
(Assessing the impact of CCTV: the Hawkeye Case Study. http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs05/rdsolr1205.pdf)
Another report on the use of CCTV in City Centers declares, 'CCTV cameras can help the police to tackle crime and disorder by improving capable guardianship and increasing the risks associated with offending. This increase in risk reduces the suitability of the target and de-motivates the offender'. Can there be a universal measure of risk? Or should risk be measured from particular-to-particular case? One wonders why both these reports were silent about the 'risk' of scene of crime moving elsewhere. Blanket CCTV coverage at a city centre might be seen as an attempt to reshape and secure a space and project it as a utopian space. However we still don't know the effectiveness of these measures to corroborate the claims of a State as a guardian. As a report on the effect of CCTV on city center cites, 'After the cameras were installed, thefts of vehicles have continued to decline sharply...however, this effect appears to fade after 8 months and the number of thefts of vehicles rises sharply.' (CCTV in Town Centres: Three Case Studies, Police Research Group Crime Detection and Prevention Series Paper 68, http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/prgpdfs/fcdps68.pdf
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Taha Mahmood is an independent researcher. His current research interests include the social life of risk and technology, politics of urban spatial restructuring, identification practices, notions of work, knowledge, archives and visual representations of risk in popular culture. Since 2006 he has been maintaining a research blog) to document and archive his eclectic research interests.