Perhaps because I persist in the delusion that Californians might want to learn some lessons about governance from overseas (given our globally nutty governance system), I find myself hosting foreigners in California again.
The wrinkle this time is that they are locals – municipal officials from European cities – Vienna, Austria; Falun, Sweden, and San Sebastian, Spain. And you can meet them at public events – this Tuesday night, Feb. 23, at the Mitchell Park Library in Palo Alto. And all day Thursday, Feb. 25, at the “Reimagining Local Government” conference at Chapman University in Orange County (the foreigners are on from 515p to 645p—a good excuse to tape, or skip, the latest presidential debate0. Both events are free.
You can learn about how Swedish libraries became democracy centers, or how Seoul, under Mayor Park Won-soon, turned its City Hall into Citizens’ Hall, with a garden-style set-up designed to facility conversation and cooperation. (The new logo of the Korean metropolis is a listening ear).
Why can’t we do stuff like that here?
What makes the visitors relevant to California is that all have deep experience and knowledge of direct democracy – and other forms of public participation.
I’m particularly interested to meet Maria Vassilakou, deputy mayor of Vienna. We imagine that city in its imperial splendor, or perhaps in the rubble of The Third Man. But actually, the city has grown and diversified. Vassilakou herself is an example of that – she’s a Greek immigrant. She’s also been a leader in introducing new forms of participation (and she’s a bicycle and transit whiz).
The traveling party will also include two officials from the Basque country—and the beautiful city of San Sebastian, famous for its food. The city is Europe’s cultural capital, and has emerged from a history of dictatorship and violence into a model of local democracy. Theirs is a story worth knowing.
And then there will be my old friend and colleague Bruno Kaufmann, a dual Swiss-Swedish citizen and journalist; he is in the local government in Falun, Sweden, chairing the election commission, and trying all sorts of experiments to give voters choices and decision-making power between elections.
We may have visitors from Cologne, Germany, and Seoul, South Korea as well. Hope to meet you and learn with our visitors.