Designing urban spaces for sustainable behaviour: Shaping communities and social conditions through surveillance—a paradox of public protection at the expense of personal privacy
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French philosopher Michel Foucault described the panopticon as “a figure of political technology that must be detached from any specific use.” His depiction of panoptic spaces as intolerable and intimidating—however persuasive his sentiment—is arguably outdated as global populations have increased and shifts in technology, urbanization, and human communication and integration have occurred at unprecedented rates. What is true is that panoptic spaces can be used as surreptitious instruments of examination, facilitating the omnipotent observer, but it is not the panoptic space that is evil, rather arguably the intent of an observer without conscience and a perverse mind that allows for it to occur. Electronic surveillance systems used in strategic architectural spaces are powerful instruments of observation positioned with the intent that they detect, prevent, and capture evidence of crime. Increasingly, however, surveillance appears to have little correlation to crime statistics, violence, or behavioural self-modification. This suggests that people in modern urban spaces have become desensitised to the constant observation that occurs in environments that are saturated with surveillance technology in much the same way as the over-use of signage in big cities over-stimulates the senses and becomes indistinct and redundant. Similarly, the overuse of overt surveillance makes the concept of behavioural selfmodification fundamentally flawed, and, as such, these systems do little to support sustainable social behaviours that promote active and safe communities when our awareness of surveillance in the urban environment is diminished. This paper examines international examples of urban surveillance and argues that electronic surveillance technologies without a physical and respected authoritarian presence do not dissuade unwanted behaviours. Further, fear-mongering is designed to persuade society that increased surveillance is in the public interest to prevent crime. This paper suggests that the link that supports sustainable social behaviours and social engagement in urban contexts is well-considered design of urban spaces that specifically promote active communities. Many urban spaces, however, consider the placement and integration of surveillance devices as essential, and, where given prominence, this paper will provide commentary on such settings and circumstances where their existence becomes little more than staged environments designed to invade civil liberties and individual privacy.
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