Local democracy was the focal theme of a study visit to Norway attended by Polish local government officials. Eighteen representatives of Polish cities and towns learned how Norwegians communicate with local residents while raising the quality of their work and involvement.
Tychy, Lublin and Wrocław have been identified as “Local Government Leaders of Governance 2022”; and Niepołomice, Starachowice, Zduńska Wola, Ostrów Wielkopolski, Gliwice, Siemianowice Śląskie, Częstochowa, Kielce, Poznań, Łódź and Gdańsk are honourable mention recipient municipalities in the 2022 Competition organised by the Association of Polish Cities under the all-encompassing motto “Communication – Participation – Shared Governance”.
As proven by winners, the honourably mentioned, and finalists of this edition, multiple Polish cities and towns are already efficient in making citizens part of the local governance process.
How do local governments in Norway do it? Answers were revealed to representatives of 14 Polish cities and towns who emerged victorious in the first 2022 edition of the “Local Government Leaders of Governance” Competition. Over the period of 27-31 March , they participated in a study visit co-organised by the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS) and Association of Polish Cities, and funded from so-called Norway Grants.
Local democracy in Bergen and Øygarden was the pivotal theme of the study visit.
Given the high precipitation volumes in Bergen, climate change and the city’s robustness are of huge importance to the municipality – municipal authorities consider both a humongous challenge, as hydrologists have observed that volumes of precipitation water have grown by 30%. This is why Bergen authorities have been asking the following questions, of themselves and local residents alike: Can we go on living as we used to? Is that an option at all? What kind of lifestyle choices can we accept in order to curb climate change? “It seems we have found ourselves in a great trap,” said Stina Oseland, Climate Agency head at the Bergen Municipality.
Today, the authorities of Bergen no longer consider increasing the number of electric vehicles driving around Bergen a priority. Today, they are taking action to eliminate cars from the city’s streets altogether, as part of an ambitious plan to be implemented until 2050. The next schedule – this one designed for all of Norway – ties in with new construction projects. Works are in progress on statutory provisions, with a requirement of greenery to be planted as a follow-up activity for each new construction investment. Already today, new structures can only be erected on areas marked grey or brown on zoning maps; green areas have been banned from any new construction.
As a result of such approach and challenges, Norwegians have begun paying great attention to matters of climate justice described i.a. in UN papers.
Norwegian hosts told Polish local government officials about how they are working to improve communication, commitment and citizen activeness.
Activities addressing residents of Bergen were presented i.a. by representatives of a municipal water and sewage grid managing institution, waste collection and management company, and municipal information department. “We want to speak a clear and comprehensible language, building trust and confidence of our local residents. We are hiding nothing from the locals or the public opinion, openly sharing our success and failures stories,” said Toralf Igesund of the BIR Waste Management Company in Bergen.
Other topics discussed during the study visit included efforts to make immigrants and young people residing in the more impoverished Bergen districts part of urban life. Polish local government representatives visited Ny-Kronhborg – the Centre for Education, Sports and Culture, beating heart of the Krohnviken district. Developed 10 years ago next to a century-old school considered a natural centre of the quarter, the Centre delivers a programme of inclusivity, public participation, and preventing discrimination. Centre activities – including the process of selecting themes for individual classes – involve the entire community, embracing parents, employees and volunteers with intent to offer the best possible future to local children and young people, and for that part of town to become a better living space, its difficult history notwithstanding.
Øygarden – west of Bergen – was the other municipality who asked Polish local government officials to visit. This local government unit was formed in 2020, as a result of three municipalities located on adjacent islands uniting. The meeting and presentations were held in a public library (also the seat of Public Services Centre) located in a shopping centre. This is a one-stop-shop location residents can visit to handle simple official affairs with no need to go to the municipal authority (they can submit assorted applications, fill in forms, get information, and/or print correspondence received from authorities and any other documents as required). The venue is of particular importance to senior citizens, and/or any other persons who are e.g. digitally excluded for a variety of reasons. The Centre employs a team of five, assisting clients with basic knowledge required to process municipal services. The facility is a pioneer solution, one of five (for the time being) similar locations in Norway, opened with intent to assist local residents, and with their convenience in mind.
Norwegian officials who met with Polish local government representatives included the mayor of Øygarden, Mr. Tom Georg Indrevik.
An account of the visit by Polish local government unit representatives was published on the Øygarden municipality’s official website: Norsk-polsk samarbeid om betre lokalsamfunn - Øygarden kommune (oygarden.kommune.no).