Some notes on smart cities and the corporatization of urban governance

Presentation by Constance Carr and Markus Hesse: “We want to address a discrepancy; that is, the discrepancy between processes and practices of technological development on one hand and/or production processes of urban change and urban problems on the other. There’s a gap here, that we can illustrate with the case of the so called“Google City”.

The scholarly literature on digital cities is quite clear that there are externalities, uncertainties and risks associated with the hype around, and the rash introduction of, ‘smartness’. To us, an old saying comes to mind: Don’t put the wagon before the horse.

Obviously, digitization and technology have revolutionized geography in many ways. And, this is nothing new. Roughly twenty years ago, with the rise of the Internet, some, such as MIT’s Bill Mitchell (1995), speculated that it and other ITs would eradicate space into the ‘City of Bits’. However, even back then statements like these didn’t go uncriticised by those who pointed at the inherent technological determinism and exposed that there is a complex relationship between urban development, urban planning, and technological innovation; that the relationship was neither new, nor trivial such that tech, itself, would automatically and necessarily be productive, beneficial, and central to cities.

What has changed is the proliferation of digital technologies and their applications. We agree with Ash et al. (2016) that geography has experienced a ‘digital turn’ where urban geography now produced by, through and of digitization. And, while digitalization of urbanity has provided benefits, it has also come sidelong a number of unsolved problems.

First, behind the production of big data, algorithms, and digital design, there are certain epistemologies – ways of knowing. Data is not value-free. Rather, data is an end product of political and associated methods of framing that structure the production of data. So, now that we “live in a present characterized by a […] diverse array of spatially-enabled digital devices, platforms, applications and services,” (Ash et al. 2016: 28), we can interrogate how these processes and algorithms are informed by socio-economic inequalities, because the risk is that new technologies will simply reproduce them.

Second, the circulation of data around the globe invokes questions about who owns and regulates them when stored and processed in remote geographic locations….(More)”.