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Cities on the path to 'smart': information technology provider interactions with urban governance through smart city projects in Dubuque, Iowa and Portland, Oregon

Cullen, Michelle (2016) Cities on the path to 'smart': information technology provider interactions with urban governance through smart city projects in Dubuque, Iowa and Portland, Oregon. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Information and communication technologies are increasingly being infused into city systems and services as part of a growing trend to make cities ‘smart’. Through the design and implementation of these efforts, large information technology (IT) providers are interacting with local government policy and planning processes via: (a) strategy—project objectives, priorities and approaches; (b) engagement—which actors are involved, the roles they play and the interactions between and among them; and (c) representation—how the local government portrays the project through narrative and brand. In the discussion below, I argue that as smart projects multiply, interactions around this proliferation will pave the way for IT providers to more broadly inform urban governance processes. For in effect, IT providers are not just selling smart technologies. Rather, they are propagating a set of assertions about the role, structure, function and relationships of local government. These assertions are informed by neoliberal and entrepreneurial principles, bound up with the concept of smart, and attractively wrapped within the smart city imaginary. This imaginary is largely created by IT providers, and cannot be pursued without them. Within my approach, I view smart initiatives not simply as technical but social and political strategies, for while these projects are about technological innovation, they are also about ‘innovations’ in the relationships, interactions and discourse that surround them. To capture both the discursive and material realities of these projects, my methods of examination included key informant interviews and case study analysis of two cities in the United States, Dubuque, Iowa and Portland, Oregon. I focus specifically on smart projects led by IBM, an influential actor in the smart city market, and use Dubuque as a primary case study with Portland for comparison. My work provides an in-depth view of the IT provider IBM alongside the rise of the corporate entrepreneurial smart city, and sheds light on what these initiatives might mean for municipal administrations and city residents in similar urban environments.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Michelle L. Cullen
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Tonkiss, Fran and Slater, Don

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