09 July 2007

Who're you lookin' at!

Gosford - 8th July, 2007

The curtain opens on a new era for public space in Gosford.

As it is with most cases where CCTV has been installed in Australian cities, the driving force has been the Chamber of Commerce in a quest to revitalise the CBD and enhance retail life. It is also an attempt to counter the results of previous planning decisions which have drained life from the town centre by encouraging Mall development elsewhere. In this regard Gosford finds itself in a predicament similar to many cities around the world.

Like other cities Gosford seems to be trying to compete by becoming more like the shopping Malls (which are becoming more like small cities), albeit outdoor, but with the same range of customer services, franchises and entertainments presented in a neat, controlled, designed, brand-identity ambience. Malls are private space, but now our Councils want to make our public space in the image of the private Mall.

Clearly an occasion for joy and celebration (perhaps Mayor Laurie Maher and Council General Manager Peter Wilson are dreaming of their trip to Japan and Slovenia in August)

Projects of beautification and tidiness are being applied to street-scapes and people alike. Recently in Gosford (16th of June) it was very difficult to find the Book Fair because the Rangers had removed all the signs.

Every night and every day
The awfulisers work away
Awfulising public places,
Favourite things and little graces
Awfulising lovely treasures
Common joys and simple pleasures
Awfulising far and near
The parts of life we held so dear
Democratic, clean and lawful
Awful, awful, awful, awful.
(Michael Leunig. 1997)

I am reminded of a story which told how Roll Royce took an early version of the automatic gearbox developed by a US auto maker and improved it by re-engineering the rough edges to a smooth precise finish, only to find that it no longer worked. They discovered that apparent imperfection, a little abrasion, is necessary. Perhaps the same is true of urban life.

It is interesting to note that a recent court ruling in the US upheld the rights of a group being prosecuted for holding its political protest in a shopping mall, on the grounds that society has reached a point where the ‘private property’ space of a mall is understood as public.

Private security guard surveys the opening crowd.

Now our village greens, our traditionally known public spaces, are becoming privatised and the personally private nature of experience in public space is disappearing.

But do people care? Most people seem to be happy in the thought that CCTV surveillance makes the streets safer. There seems to be little hard evidence that this is the case, so perhaps it is merely the perception that counts. However if you are counting dollars ($320,000), it is reasonable to ask whether resources could not be better allocated to addressing the causes of crime and assisting both the community, and potential offenders, through community policing.

It was announced on Friday that Gosford street cleaners have been trained in "multi-tasking" and are part of the security team.

Research indicates that CCTV surveillance does not in itself reduce crime, but is likely to move it from the town centre to the suburbs, although it can be of use in investigating misdemeanors after the event, but psychopaths and chemically unstable individuals are not likely to be rationally considering apprehension before they act, and calculating criminals will have planned to avoid the cameras.

Who’re you lookin’ at!

All the worlds a stage, and you are “on”. So now is your chance to let the inner exhibitionist out. But consider your appearance and behaviour carefully – you are being scrutinised. Do you know how that funny habit you have, when you think you are alone, will be interpreted? And what do you know about the person who can zoom in on any part of your body without you knowing?
We live in a State of Emergency which, as we know, “justifies” any measures.

How to be not “seen”
Don’t be an attractive female.
Do not deviate from preconceived norms of Gosford appearance and behaviour. Do not wear a hoodie.
Do not be ‘ethnic’, coloured, or make extravagant bodily gestures and/or laugh too loudly.

But lets not be negative. This is your chance to star!

We thought it best to join in the applause.

04 July 2007

Urban Eyeball

The following contribution was received from Sophy Webb. Serendipitous, considering that Gosford's newly installed CCTV surveillance system will be officially launched this Friday afternoon in William Plaza.
The nature of public space in Gosford will have been fundamentally changed.
See you in the Plaza!

From Sophy:

Rain Causes Eyeball Delay

Rain has again delayed the planned installation of 54 Closed Circuit Television Cameras in the Gosford CBD.

The cameras were to be operational by 16 June but torrential rain and strong winds caused the installation to be postponed. After yet another delay, spokesperson for the agency charged with the development and installation of the CCT System, Eyeball on Gosford (EBOG), expressed considerable frustration stating that important information was being lost with each passing day.

When asked to explain the purpose of the EBOG system, the spokesperson animatedly described a system would track and report the habits of Gosford CBD pedestrians “much like the way in which Australian Shoppers’ habits are tracked by Fly Buys.”

He reported that the commissioning of the system was prompted by the report of unusual behaviour in February this year in the Gosford City CBD. Eyewitnesses reported, along with other strange occurrences, a western-style shootout and the disturbing gagging of a young woman in the main street.

He was not able to explain, however, the eventual usefulness of the data, appearing confused at the purpose of the question.

A Central Coast resident and Gosford CBD frequenter discounts the credibility of the system stating, “EBOG are providing paper-thin explanations for the purpose of this system. They have assured the public that these are not security cameras so this leads me to wonder what the use of these cameras are and what the data will be used for.”

EBOG spokesperson has ascertained that the placement of the cameras will not be in high pedestrian areas such as the Railway Station, Cafes, Shopping Complexes, Retail Outlets or Banks and Real Estates, but will be situated in far less populated locations such as Waterfall Arcade.

Burns Park, once a vibrant meeting place for travellers but now mostly deserted, will host three EBOG cameras

“What is the point of that?” asks a Gosford Worker. “If the aim is to monitor and track the habits of the Gosford Pedestrian Public, then the placement is all wrong. Burns Park and in particular the Rotary Fountain, designed and built by the Lewers Family as a Memorial to Peace, has long been ignored and neglected”.

One wonders if the purpose of the system is a futile one?

When pressed for details of the timeframe for the finalisation of the camera placement, the spokesperson replied, “The cameras will be installed in predetermined locations one sunny day soon…”.