As the fabric of the city becomes increasingly fibreoptic, enthusiasm for the speed and ubiquity of digital infrastructure abounds. From Toronto to Abu Dhabi, new technologies promise the ability to observe, manage, and experience the city in so-called real-time, freeing cities from the spatiotemporal restrictions of the past. In this project, I look at the way this appreciation for the real-time is influencing our understanding of the datafied urban subject. I argue that this dominant discourse locates digital infrastructure within a broader metaphysics of presence, in which instantaneous data promise an unmediated view of both the city and those within it. The result is a levelling of residents along an overarching, linear, and spatialized timeline that sanitizes the temporal and rhythmic diversity of urban spaces. This same levelling effect can be seen in contemporary regulatory frameworks, which focus on the rights or sovereignty of a largely atomized urban subject removed from its spatiotemporal context. A more equitable alternative must therefore consider the temporal diversity, relationality, and inequality implicit within the datafied city, an alternative I begin to ground in Jacques Derrida’s notion of the spectre. This work is conducted through an exploration of Sidewalk Labs pioneering use of term urban data during their foray in Toronto, which highlights the potentiality of alternative, spectral data governance models at the same time it reflects the limitations of existing frameworks.
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Urban Studies, University of Toronto