The work examines the underlying smart city products developed by companies such as IBM, Hitachi and Cisco that are increasingly targeting the urban market. From IBM’s Smarter City® and Urbotica’s City Operating System® to Microsoft’s CityNext®, large and small electronics and IT companies are developing software/hardware packages that claim to improve the quality of urban services whilst making the city more efficient and sustainable.
At the same time, municipal authorities are investing resources in the development and operationalization of a variety of digital platforms aimed at transforming both services and infrastructures. The paper argues that these computerized technologies are actively being positioned as ‘operating systems’: essential hardware, software and data components that quietly sit in the background directing urban flows, providing shared languages towards interoperability across multiple infrastructures. The IT sector and media often refer to such platforms integrating the digital and material domains of the city as ‘urban operating systems’(Urban OS).
The paper examines the emerging Urban OS, tracing its historical roots within military and corporate domains whilst also establishing how its contemporary application may generate new relations and embody a new logic of urban control. Critical guiding questions are how IT rationalities of control are transferred to the urban context, and through which ‘diagrammatic abstractions’ the city is reconfigured as a computational space. We focus on five archetypal framings of how Urban OS envision the city, illustrating how a new corporate rationality of control based on functional simplification and heterogeneous reintegration seeks to take hold in the city by emphasising re-engineering, agility, modularity, flexibility and configurability. Increasingly the city is viewed and managed as a corporate entity squeezing out other ways of knowing the urban context.