Mundane Surveillance: Tracking mobile applications and urban accounting in Canadian Business Improvement Areas
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In response to splintering streetscapes and in order to remain relevant amidst “smart cities” and “urban big data”, Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) have moved away from clipboards and ledgers, to become early adopters of smarter urban technologies. Initially, BIAs began using social media metrics, pedestrian counters, closed-circuit television and i-beacons to collect data, demonstrate return on investment, and engage in their own corporate storytelling. Increasingly today, BIAs use geospatial applications and platforms to better monitor, manage and control the city and its assets. While much smaller in scope and aim than smart city ventures, these forms of entrepreneurial and platform urbanism are presented as ways of updating and automating BIA practices, making their mandates manageable, and promoting accountability across stakeholders. With seemingly mundane aims, how are these accountability relations enacted on the ground, and what do they do? My dissertation combines extensive document collection, conference ethnography, along with interviews and work-shadowing data in order to trace the mobility and use of geospatial applications and platforms by BIAs in Toronto and Vancouver. Focused on how BIAs created and manage value, and make their mandates doable, I illustrate how these technologies render, (ac)count for, police and govern urban spaces and populations. Cases of the actually existing smart city or ordinary smart city I contend these valuation devices, help transform matters of concern into matters of fact. I argue that these technologies not only make the spaces and materials of the city countable, but by extension, they also hold the users and uses of space to account. Data and the surrounding tellable stories promote relations of visibility and accountability that articulate and delegate work, stabilize knowledge claims and promote ontological politics that strengthens the authority of BIAs over the urban landscape.