19th Karlsruhe Dialogues – Speakers
Dr. h.c. Petra Roth
1. What contribution to the quality of life and vibrancy of a city can civil society make through active citizen participation?
The responsibility that municipalities bear for providing public services for their citizens cannot be replaced by the engagement of civil society. But cities and towns need support, primarily in meeting the obligations imposed on them by the national government and the individual states. In such cases, cities in particular can motivate the urban community to action by promoting civic engagement. With regard to voluntary service, e.g. in the domains of culture and society, significant contributions to a city’s quality of life and its vitality can be made by (for example) foundations and responsible companies, or by patronage. The same is true with regard to citizens’ participating in municipal decisions, e.g. in city planning. When citizens participate in – and make meaningful contributions to – a municipality’s decisions, this strengthens residents’ sense of identification with their municipality.
2. In how far do cities have a responsibility for the coexistence of cultures and the emergence of a collective identity?
Not sole responsibility, but a crucial one. The municipality’s sustained willingness to work together with churches, trade unions, and representatives of their fellow citizens of foreign origin (keyword ‘round table’) to create a climate in which there is no room for prejudices against foreign cultures – this shapes a city or town and contributes significantly to its collective identity. This includes respect for other cultures, but also the requirement that people from other cultural contexts show equal respect for our culture (which is foreign to them) and observe its (constitutional) laws. Cities and towns in Germany are part of a federalist system based on the rule of law. Without a commitment to the rule of law, a collective identity cannot be realised.
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?
Political decisions made in cities and towns are immediately noticeable to the people living there. In such situations there is little – if any – distance between citizens and politics. And because this is the case, the mayors responsible for their city or town are the first to sense how thinking on the level of the national government might clash with local interests, and those mayors can work together with their citizens to find solutions to the ensuing conflicts. This applies to practically all areas of everyday life. One can assume that everyone living in cities wants to shape their living space – or have it be shaped for them – in accordance with basic universal needs. This includes: access to basic and advanced vocational training; the ability to find work and to support themselves with that work; having a living space, and being able to afford that space; having free time; access to leisure facilities; and more. All this presupposes sustainability, which itself requires an unspoilt environment.