19th Karlsruhe Dialogues – Speakers
1. What contribution to the quality of life and vibrancy of a city can civil society make through active citizen participation?
Active citizen participation needs to be defined before we can go about harnessing its power to inform the quality of life and the vibrancy of civil society. There are different levels of participation that get dis-intermediated with digital technologies. If one looks at the path to citizen participation, it can be expressed as:
stage 1: listening/reading/commenting, e.g. (to) an article on Facebook;
stage 2: watching, e.g. a YouTube clip about an issue;
stage 3: giving money, e.g. to a local cause;
stage 4: providing information, e.g. taking part in a local survey;
stage 5: being there, e.g. taking part in a consultation;
stage 6: giving time, e.g. volunteering on a local project;
stage 7: starting something, e.g. starting an urban garden/farm.
Stages 1 and 2 are increasingly mass-produced and can also be defined as ‘Slacktivism’, whereas stages 3 to 7 are of an increasingly niche character. The challenge is to combine the ease and scale of participation from stages 1 and 2 to stage 3 to 7. If we are able to do that, then the quality of life and the vibrancy of the city can have a big push through this kind of engaged active citizen participation.
2. In how far do cities have a responsibility for the coexistence of cultures and the emergence of a collective identity?
Throughout history, cities have been melting pots for different communities, religions, languages, foods, cultures, and occupations. It is still the best man-made solution to bring social cohesion by distributing resources, wealth, and opportunities in the most efficient and dynamic way possible, and by retaining cultural pluralism and identity.
Yet cities like London and San Francisco increasingly have a real issue in making the cost of living accessible to all citizens working and contributing towards the cities’ growth. It becomes a policy and governance issue for the functioning of the city to ensure that people from different socio-economic backgrounds can live, work, and play in a city – without having to commute from too far, which unwittingly leads to the creation of economic migrants with distinct cultural identities.
We already see this happening in London, where many people cannot afford to live in the central city (zones 1-4) and are moving out further into the suburbs. In London and elsewhere, such developments create ghettos and lead to political and social unrest (as witnessed in the 2011 Peckham riots), as well as to increasingly sectarian violence (as seen this year in Paris and Copenhagen).
Good cities create conditions of acculturation rather than blanket assimilation. They thereby allow citizens to retain their identity while letting them enrich the cultural fabric of the city through their cuisine, entertainment, music, heritage, and other cultural dimensions. So yes, cities do have a responsibility for creating the right conditions that allow for the coexistence of cultures to create a collective identity.
3. “If Mayors Ruled the World” (Benjamin R. Barber) … How could they solve problems due to national blockades of international politics putting them into perspective and promoting new forms of intercultural understanding?
By sharing best practices between cities in resolving ‘wicked problems’, mayors can form new kinds of transnational partnerships to create a shared vision. By approaching cities through a common ‘pattern’ language for problems and solutions, mayors can lead the way in creating new kinds of economic opportunities and collaborations. These can foster growth, innovation, and citizenship for a shared urban future or commons. This can be started off by having common interoperable city infrastructures around systems where urban data and activity can be measured, analysed, and shared – in order to troubleshoot, future-proof/predict, and innovate, with the aim to sustain rapid urban growth.