Smart Cities, Stupid Outcomes? Ambiguities of Smart City Policies

Authors: Gernot Grabher*, HCU Hamburg
Topics: Economic Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Business Geography
Keywords: smart cities, policy mobility, local adaptation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Studio 5, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The growing influence of large technology corporations on the provision and control of digitalized urban infrastructures is a key concern in the literature on smart cities. By systematically turning classic public goods into private assets, the current orthodoxy maintains that smart city policies propel the global mainstreaming of neoliberal urban development strategies. This prevailing position, however, has been challenged by McNeill (2015) who insists that the power of ‘smart cities’ corporations to influence urban life is analytically over-determined. In order to unpack the global proliferation of smart city policies and the role of global technology corporations, research consequently has to appreciate the pitfalls, ambivalences, and tensions of smart city policies.
Our intention in this paper is to take McNeill’s (2015) request seriously. More specifically, we seek to highlight three key ambiguities: (1) Global vs. local, stressing the need to align ‘ready-to-wear’ hard- and software packages to local specificities; (2) Public vs. private, referring to the delicate balance between necessary private sector expertise and capital and the essential need to maintain access to public goods; (3) Industrialized countries vs. emerging economies, focusing on the paradoxical logic of an unequal global geography, in which pilot projects primarily occur in the metropolitan spaces of emerging economies.
We argue that the global spread of the smart city has to be conceived of as a complex, multiscalar and contested process. Rather than being exclusively driven by narrow corporate imperatives, smart city policies are rife with ambiguities that materialize in locally-specific solutions, compromises and failures.

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