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The Green Mayor

by Worldchanging Chicago local editor, Patrick Rollens

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The January issue of Conscious Choice has an excellent interview with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. In the article, Daley discusses both his upcoming projects and his legacy as a steward of Chicago. Among the interesting topics covered is the notion that, in today's era of federal-level gridlock and stagnant support, enterprising cities are entirely capable of championing causes on their own -- with worldchanging results. From Conscious Choice article:

"Daley: As the government cuts back on programs—and maybe they have too many programs and should have more options instead of having so many complicated programs, that way the money gets spread around more quickly and evenly—that’s where the community has to step up and function.

The federal government is much more dysfunctional these days, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Democrat or Republican, they are so far removed from the average citizen—especially when it comes to the environment. Just today we had the Coast Guard shooting lead rounds into the lake, and we’re like, “you can’t dump all that lead into the lake!? But with [the federal government] the left hand never knows what the right hand is doing. Local government is hands-on; people can just come right up and talk to us and tell us their real concerns and needs."

In the face of such indecision, Chicago has plowed ahead -- for better or worse -- with a variety of initiatives that would never have received support on the federal level. From smoking bans to big box initiatives to green building codes, the sheer level of activity in Chicago is proof that the city-state mentality may not be such an archaic notion after all.

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(Forgive a naive and, perhaps, un-implementable idea.)

In the Worldchanging book there is mention of NGO-in-a-box, could there be a City-State-in-a-box? (A la the e-Government Handbook but stepped up several notches.) This would be a package of software and tools that would allow cities to better connect with their population and network on ideas with one another. Potentially, it would replace a goodly portion of entrenched bureaucracy as well; direct discussion in lieu of city council meetings (or, direct weblog discussions with councillors), immediate votes on city-wide issues, etc. (Of course, there would be concerns about access and security.)

Alternately, City-State-in-a-box could be used by groups of citizens in disorganised metropolises. What if, concurrent with the One Laptop Per Child campaign, laptops and software were distributed to people living in the developing world's urban slums? This would directly empower people to collectively make decisions and move for social action (and probably make a lot of powerful people rather upset).

Who needs outmoded forms of government if people can act more efficiently by direct collaboration? (That's not an anarchist's suggestion, it would be a method of democracy without the "middlemen.")

Posted by: Jason Nicholas on 7 Jan 07

I think it’s a worthy suggestion, and I'd be surprised if we didn't move in that direction at some point. At this point though I don't think suitable software is available, nor is the experience that would be required to successfully work such a system.

Open source software and Wikipedia prove that online collaboration is possible, but I think direct digital collaboration is a different ball game. It involves people discussing complex issues that may relate to strongly held values. Finding solutions often requires serious dialogue and compromise.

I’m hopeful though!

Posted by: Dan on 7 Jan 07

Finding solutions often requires serious dialogue and compromise.

Yes, I'm just remembering, when I was a child, my father was on city council (or some such city advisory board). I got the impression that about .00002 percent of the population attended such meetings or really had much idea what the city government is actually doing. There must be ways to broaden out the discussion beyond the stuffy rooms in city hall out into the public arena.

If Apple can sell billions of songs on iTunes and provide a sensible way for people to review and comment on songs, there must be a way for people in one city to communicate openly about issues facing the water board (and for people in other cities to get ideas on what to do with their own water issues, etc.).

Posted by: Jason Nicholas on 10 Jan 07



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