Governing Digital Cities

Researcher: Professor Donald McNeill
Funding: Australian Research Council (opens in a new window), Future Fellowship Grant
Period: 2012-2017
» Fact sheet (opens in a new window) (PDF, 207KB)

As with all major infrastructural developments, broadband internet is having a significant impact on the governance, economy, and built environment of cities. It is now increasingly accepted that the world economy has entered into a second phase of digital economic development, dominated by innovation in social media (Facebook and others), the growing penetration of mobile platforms (such as smartphones and tablets), a reshaped corporate landscape (the rapid transformation of start-ups such as Google and Facebook into global media players), and new modes of data storage and management (cloud computing and big data). Major global corporations have played a very significant role in the technologies of national government, and are increasingly turning their attention to introducing 'smart' or 'intelligent' solutions to long-established municipal service fields. Increasingly, major global cities are bundling together hitherto separate policy areas in the creation of a digital strategy. A good example would be the City of New York's Road Map to a Digital City (2011), in which Mayor Michael Bloomberg states New York's claim to be "the world's leading digital city". The report gathers together a number of policy strands under the rubric of a digital city strategy: widening internet access for residents (from reducing digital divides to increasing connectivity options in public places), creating channels for more open government (improving council transparency and using visualisation tools to make data more visible to the public), citizen engagement (an improved city website, and the use of social networking tools to improve citizen dialogue, including crowdsourcing problems such as potholes), and industry support (a mix of seed grant funding for start-ups, tax incentives, and state-sanctioned real estate developments aimed at meeting the locational needs of technology and new media companies).

Taking these issues as a starting point, this four-year research programme has three strands. First, it will examine the nature of the digital economy in several cities worldwide, with a focus on attempts to emulate the success of Silicon Valley. Case studies will include London's Silicon Roundabout, Barcelona's 22@, Hong Kong's Cyberport, and New York's digital road-map. Second, it will chart the growing interest of firms such as IBM, Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco in urban governance and service provision, and how they envision and construct urban futures. Third, it will provide a major empirical examination of Australia's digital economy, conducting fieldwork in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide, exploring technology parks, venture capital, start-up ecologies and incubators, and the readiness of government to engage with high technology sectors.