• Global technology companies and the politics of urban socio-technical imaginaries in the digital age: Processual proxies, Trojan horses and global beachheads

      Hodson, Mike; email: michael.hodson@manchester.ac.uk; McMeekin, Andrew (SAGE Publications, 2021-03-16)
      In this paper, we take the concept of ‘new urban spaces’ as our jumping off point to engage with the efforts of Alphabet/Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs to cultivate a new integrated digital and infrastructural urban space on the Toronto waterfront. We interrogate the process and politics of imagining this new, digital urban space as an urban socio-technical imaginary. The paper critically examines the central role of ‘big tech’ in producing the urban socio-technical imaginary not as a snapshot but, rather, as a ‘process of becoming’. This processual focus on the role of big tech allows us to develop three interrelated analytical contributions. First, we generate in-depth understanding of the proxy politics of urban socio-technical imaginaries in constituting new digital urban spaces. Second, we argue that an urban socio-technical imaginary was used as a Trojan horse to promote private experimentation with urban governance. Third, we demonstrate attempts to imagine a global beachhead via ‘the global model’ of a new digital urban space predicated on the digital control of integrated urban infrastructure systems.