(Se)curing the City

(Se)curing the City


In today’s media landscape, we are inundated with imagery of objects of security and surveillance. From immigration to gun violence, governments and corporations propose walls, cameras, and sensors to address the ills of contemporary cities. Despite the ever increasing clarity of CCTV and satellite imagery, surveillance remains a murky topic. When used to secure targeted institutions or desolate urban expanses, guards and cameras are an effective way to prevent crime and ensure the safety of vulnerable populations. Yet, the objects of surveillance can quickly turn sinister. What happens when a cure becomes a threat in its own right?

This issue of Paprika! explores the impact of security and surveillance at diverse scales. The essays within “(Se)curing the City” are organized as a gradient of inquiry, from the body to the domestic, from institutions to the urban, and from national borders to the globe. Rukshan Vathupola discusses sartorial measures of resistance to facial recognition software, while Mary Carole Overholt demonstrates how domestic abusers exploit home security systems. Architect Esther Sperber weighs in on designing sacred space with growing security concerns, whereas Ramis Wadood and Andrew Rising depict how Detroit’s latest policing measure transitioned from an emblem of safety to a tool for targeting minorities. Maya Sorabjee, Limy Rocha, and Aaron Tobey consider surveillance mechanisms at contentious national borders, and Sarah Weiss concludes the issue with a meditation on the way in which Google Earth obstructs our understanding of urban life.

The infrastructure of surveillance is rendered at varied levels of visibility, affecting individuals’ perception of these objects’ efficacy. The visual prominence of European synagogues’ security blockades and bollards contrasts the partly obscured CCTV cameras of Detroit gas station’s Green Lights. Surveillance becomes simultaneously omnipresent and imperceptible along the extensive stretch of highway with no connecting roads between China and Kyrgyzstan, as well as from satellites’ continuous capture of our environments while orbiting far above the earth. Contemporary technology facilitates national and city governments’ illegal action against citizens, including shutting down all communication in and out of Kashmir to deter political dissent and disproportionately targeting black residents of Detroit. National governments also support the construction of security infrastructure for economic gain rather than citizens’ safety as demonstrated in President Trump’s support of the U.S.-Mexico border wall or China’s western border crossing, misplaced, yet fully-stocked with duty-free delights for purchase.

I am grateful to the contributors who opened my eyes to the sometimes efficacious yet often sinister gaze of objects of security and surveillance. A special thanks to Julia Schäfer and Cindy Hwang, the issue designers who discovered and illustrated our shared namesake’s (the old lock and key) ancestral ties to the business of security.