ICS Seminar Series - Professor Donald McNeill

Date: Thursday 6 February, 2014
Time: 11.30am - 1pm
Venue: EB.2.21, UWS Parramatta South campus

Professor Donald McNeill

Flat World Cities? A Critical Analysis of IBM’s Smarter Cities Initiatives


The development and spread of ‘smart city’ policies and practices is now an important element of contemporary urban governance. This has been reflected in the growth of a significant body of literature which charts the spatiality of urban policy transfer. However, the role of transnational firms such as IBM, Siemens and Cisco in this process requires further investigation. In addition, the ontological status of ‘cities’ for these firms within processes of research, marketing, and implementation requires some reflection. In this paper, I explore the origin and development of IBM’s Smarter Cities strategies, perhaps the most influential and pervasive of the ‘smart city’ policy movements. The paper makes three interventions in the analysis of this strategy. First, it explores some of the contingencies embedded in IBM’s involvement with specific local states, sites and contracts. Second, it identifies how IBM sees cities within its suite of vertical specialist markets, and particularly within the ‘big data’ regimes of analysis. Third, it describes the relationship between the marketing, modeling and visualization practices that IBM specializes in. This includes the selling of proprietary software packages, the marketing of these to city governments, and the use of visualization techniques to allow the comprehension of these problems for clients (city leaders). The paper argues that smart cities policies have to be located within longer traditions of municipal service provision, governmentality, and global firm strategy.

A copy of Professor McNeill's paper is available on request. Email your request to Dr Sonja van Wichelen: s.vanwichelen@uws.edu.au (opens in a new window).


Donald McNeill is Professor of Urban and Cultural Geography, joining the Institute for Culture and Society in 2011, having previously held positions at the Urban Research Centre at UWS, King’s College London, Southampton and Strathclyde. He is a recipient of an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, in the field of ‘Governing Digital Cities’, running from 2012 to 2016. His work is located at the intersection of human geography, economic sociology, spatial planning, and urban design and architecture, with a particular interest in the political and cultural economy of globalization and cities. His books include The Global Architect: Firms, Fame and Urban Form (Routledge, 2008), New Europe: Imagined Spaces (Arnold, 2004), and Urban Change and the European Left: Tales from the New Barcelona (Routledge, 1999).