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IBM's smart city as techno-utopian policy mobility
City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action (2015)
  • Alan Wiig, University of Massachusetts Boston

This paper explores IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge as an example of global smart city pol- icymaking. The evolution of IBM’s smart city thinking is discussed, then a case study of Phi- ladelphia’s online workforce education initiative, Digital On-Ramps, is presented as an example of IBM’s consulting services. Philadelphia’s rationale for working with IBM and the translation of IBM’s ideas into locally adapted initiatives is considered. The paper argues that critical scholarship on the smart city over-emphasizes IBM’s agency in driving the discourse. Unpacking how and why cities enrolled in smart city policymaking with IBM places city governments as key actors advancing the smart city paradigm. Two points are made about the policy mobility of the smart city as a mask for entrepreneurial governance. (1) Smart city efforts are best understood as examples of outward-looking policy promotion for the globalized economy. (2) These policies proposed citywide benefit through a variety of digital governance augmentations, unlike established urban, economic development projects such as a downtown redevelopment. Yet, the policy rhetoric of positive change was always oriented to fostering globalized business enterprise. As such, implement- ing the particulars of often-untested smart city policies mattered less than their capacity to attract multinational corporations.

  • entrepreneurial city,
  • IBM,
  • Philadelphia,
  • policy mobilities,
  • smart city,
  • urban governance
Publication Date
April 1, 2015
Citation Information
Alan Wiig. "IBM's smart city as techno-utopian policy mobility" City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action Vol. 19 Iss. 2-3 (2015)
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