Accepted paper:

Partial platforms: the everyday life of oligoptic geospatial technologies in the neoliberal city


Debra Mackinnon (Queen's University)
David Murakami Wood (Queen's University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper traces the adoption and use of a smart city management application platform by three downtown Canadian BIAs. We explore the granular, uneven, and overlapping ways these technologies spatially sort and geosurveil the city.

Paper long abstract:

Smart cities technologies are changing how contemporary public-private surveillance unfolds across urban landscapes. These urban platforms have caught the attention of municipal governments, and Business Improvement Areas (BIAs), by promising effective ways to monitor, manage, control, and geosurveil the city (Kitchin, 2014). However, as Shelton, Zook & Wigg (2015) note, the 'actually existing smart city' amounts to 'partial platforms' in everyday practice. Rather than creating wide ranging, centralized, and interoperable control, in practice these sociotechnical surveillance systems are relatively narrow, multiple, and uneven (Latour, 2005; Murakami-Wood & Ball, 2013). This administrative fragmentation is reflected in the way neoliberal cities are governed via multiple layers of variously corporate structure, each with slightly different priorities and histories. This paper explores one such example by following the adoption and use of a smart city management application platform by three downtown Canadian BIAs. Although primarily adopting the application for its marketed use cases (i.e., street ambassador tracking, RFID asset tracking, digital order submissions, 311-integration, custom reports, and heat maps), most have adapted the app to suit the soft policing and boundary setting needs of the area. Drawing on internal reports, interview data, and participant observation, we argue this platform with its geospatial overlays and spatial sorting abilities enables BIAs to play with 'smart governance,' by mildly augmenting and automating urban asset management already carried out by the BIAs. Perhaps at a planetary urban scale these overlapping platforms add up to something, but in terms of everyday urban governance, they add up to very little.

panel C13
Assembling the smart city: exploring the contours of social difference