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What would our lives be like if Amazon or Tinder ran an entire city?

IN STARBUCKS CITY, you can apply to have a pothole filled, just like in any other city. Just specify the size of your hole (Maltesa, Sharpe or Labradoro) and be sure to check whether your neighbourhood requires your asphalt to be ethically sourced.

In recent years, it has become a truism among policy-makers that cities should be optimised in the way corporations are. Turning a city into a “smart city” is an alluring prospect. It pushes inefficient government bureaucracy out of the way and replaces it with streamlined corporate governance. But to what end?

Two new works of speculative fiction take that question very literally, and their vision of the efficiency endgame shares more DNA with horror than with science fiction, albeit cut with farce.

Because what do we mean by optimising? Whose priorities are reflected in that word? How to Run a City Like Amazon, and Other Fables imagines life if a whole city were run by one of 38 megacorps even now insinuating their way into our lives. One of the co-editors, Mark Graham, an internet geographer at the University of Oxford, asked some academics to write speculative stories or essays about living according to corporate leadership principles espoused by companies from Apple to Pornhub.

The underlying question here is what could possibly go wrong? It is posed, one imagines, with a certain degree of glee.

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