“Smart” Accounting: Accounts and Accountability with Urban Asset Management Applications

Authors: Debra Mackinnon*, Queen's University
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: smart cities, knowledge politics, platforms, business improvement districts
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Against a background of administrative fragmentation and entrepreneurial urbanism, municipal governments, Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) and private enterprises have turned towards smart cities technologies and data-driven applications to better monitor, manage and control the city – and its assets. Tasked with the oversight of much of the public and private realm, BIAs are experimenting and adopting mobile apps and plug-and-play platforms, as higher-tech, lower-cost solutions for asset management. These platforms offer BIAs the opportunity to pilot smart city technologies – tag assets, create spatial databases, automate public realm maintenance issues and measure agency compliance – and ultimately, enable public and private holdings, the spaces and places of the “actually-existing smart city” (Shelton, Zook and Wiig, 2015) to become ‘account-able’ (Garfinkel, 1967; Lynch, 1993; Neyland, 2006). This paper follows one such urban asset management app, from its creation, to its circulation, adoption and use in Canadian and United Kingdom contexts. How does this app account for and render the urban environment and its contents? How does this app hold to account and produce accountability relations? Drawing on internal reports, interview data and participant observation, I argue these technologies not only make spaces and materials of the city observable and reportable, but by extension, they also hold the users and uses of space to account. Claiming to enhance governance and administration through the “smart” management of the public/private realm, these technologies also enable BIAs to engage in “knowledge politics” (Fischer, 2000; Elwood & Leszcynski, 2013) strengthening their authority over the urban landscape

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