[Empowerment] Citizens Hall: A Multipurpose Space for Civic Activities
A dark cloud hovering over economic growth.
In the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Indicators Korea ranked 15th in the world in nominal gross domestic product (GDP), with USD 1.1295 trillion. Miraculous economic growth, to be sure, but the Korean people are not necessarily the happier for it.
In a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) survey conducted in July 2013 on the self-rated happiness of people in 156 countries, Koreans gave themselves a happiness score of 6.27 out of 10. Though slightly higher than the world average (at 5.158), this score still only places Koreans 41st on the happiness scale, lower than Korea’s 34th ranking for GDP per capita. Following this trend, Korea ranked 63th on the National Happiness Index survey conducted by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) of England in 2012
Korea has achieved an unprecedented level of economic development, and its cities shine brightly. But there is a dark cloud hovering over such success: the country has the highest suicide rate and the lowest birth rate among OECD member states. Indeed, Korea is a case in point for how an obsession with quantitative growth and development has failed to improve quality of life for people.
Crisis of confidence in the government and public institutions.
Korean bureaucrats, by far the elite in Korean society, have pursued economic growth in the country through a heavily market-intervening policy. Thus in a very real sense such growth has been won through the exclusion of citizens from the policymaking process, which in turn has fostered a public sector plagued with policy failures and structural corruption.
All of these factors contributed to the Korean people’s loss of confidence in their government and its agencies.
The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, conducted by a polling agency in 26 countries with those considered the opinion leaders (specifically, people in the top 25 percent of the income group, with a college education or higher), revealed that only 44 percent of educated, well-earning Koreans trusted the government.
Another poll conducted by the Hyundai Research Institute in March 2013 similarly showed that only 30.2 percent of participants trusted the government, far below the OECD average of 38.9 percent. Moreover, in the same poll, only 31.4 percent of participants had positive things to say about the transparency and trustworthiness of the government and its involvement in various aspects of Korean society.
Urgent need for a public space of both symbolic and substantial importance.
Korean civil society brazenly fought against authoritarianism to emerge victorious in its struggles for democratization. Various plazas, including Seoul Plaza, have been centers for these noble struggles. Following in this tradition, yet mindful of changes in the times, the present government of Seoul City recognized a need for a space to include citizens in the democratic process even more—a space where they could fully participate in making the policies that impact their lives.
Korean citizens deserve not only a policymaking process that is democratic in form, but one in which they, themselves, can exert influence throughout all phases, from drafting policies to seeing them enforced. The Seoul City government recognized that for this to happen, a space dedicated to active communication and exchange between citizens, and between citizens and the government, was urgently needed. Thus began the trajectory which ended in the birth of Citizens Hall—an interactive public space open to all citizens who are interested in, and/or wish to voice their opinion about, policies and the policymaking process.
Mayor launches an innovative initiative for the democratization of policymaking.
Seoul City Mayor Park Won-soon was a well-known and respected social activist before he was elected to the mayoral seat. He established several notable charity and social movement organizations, such as the Beautiful Foundation (Korea’s Goodwill) and the Hope Institute. The mayor’s slogan, “Citizens Are Mayors,” is not just a catchy phrase but the sincere foundation upon which his many efforts to ensure citizens’ participation—as policy leaders and beneficiaries—are based.
The mayor fully acknowledged the growing demand among citizens for expanded inclusion in, and with that further democratization of, the policymaking process, and as such promised the citizenry that he would set aside part of the new city hall building exclusively for citizen use. He then launched an ambitious program for developing a new, large space dedicated to civic activities and participation.
Promoting open communication at the old citadel of authoritarianism.
The old Seoul City Hall building carries with it quite a dark and complicated history. Not only was it home to the Japanese colonial government during that country’s occupation of Korea, it was also the center of the fearful authoritarianism mercilessly doled out to the people by former military dictatorships. In short, the very idea of Seoul City Hall needed transforming, as did its function vis-à-vis the people. Citizens Hall has achieved that transformation. Located on the two underground floors of the new City Hall building, Citizens Hall has effectively replaced the government contractedness of the past with government receptiveness, inviting citizens inside for active participation and debate.
Located nearby Seoul Plaza, where citizens cheered on Team Korea during the historic 2002 World Cup and where more recently candlelight vigils have been held to mark graver moments in Korean society, Citizens Hall sprawls over a total area of 8,150 square meters. By devoting so much space to Citizens Hall, the city became the first in the world to return almost 9 percent of its City Hall to the citizenry. The space is left relatively open and unobstructed to maximally fulfill its purpose as a venue for the free-spirited activities of citizens.
Citizens Hall adopts an innovative and open design concept. The space is divided into multiple areas to be used for diverse purposes, such as debates, exhibitions, performances, seminars and lectures, and recreation. Citizens Hall has enabled a complete re-envisioning of Seoul City Hall as a center of active civic participation.
Promoting political participation as well as shared recreation and culture.
At Citizens Hall citizens are free to partake in active debates on policy issues, and discuss and make suggestions for new policy programs. The Hall includes the Policy Café, where citizens can shape and discuss their own policymaking agendas, and policy workshop rooms, where citizens can debate and explore solutions for the diverse issues they encounter daily.
At the Seoul Speakers' Corner, also located in the Hall, citizens can speak to the public without censorship or time limits. Talks, Sharing Housekeeping Market, and even wedding ceremonies are all held in the Hall’s open spaces, as well as a host of other programs organized according to citizens’ initiatives.
Creativity and Innovation
Active listening to citizens.
Citizens Hall, is called Shimincheong in Korean and 市民聽 in Chinese characters. The last character in the Chinese name is not the traditional 廳, which sounds the same as 聽, and is used to refer to government agencies. Rather, the character is 聽, which means “to listen.” The institution was named thus because it embodies the commitment of Seoul City to listen actively and sincerely to citizens. Citizens Hall, in other words, is not a place where the city unilaterally imposes its decisions, but one where citizens gather to be heard on policy issues, and heard they are.
Open and creative communication led by citizens.
Citizens Hall enlisted much civic participation in all phases of its planning, development, and implementation. From February to April, 2012, Seoul City actively gathered citizens’ opinions to decide the features and layout of the Hall. The Citizens Task Force was established to systematize the design and development processes. When Citizens Hall opened, the Operation Advisory Council and the Civic Planners Group were founded to organize citizens’ input. The Hall’s features and programs are continuously being expanded based on valuable proposals from citizens.
Few other city halls in the world have devoted such significant areas of their facilities (totaling 8,150 square meters) to the public. Citizens Hall has attracted over 2.3 million visitors so far, and its facilities have been booked for almost 990 public events. The Hall is fast becoming a major venue for public meetings and celebrations.
Execution and Implementation
New concept of Seoul City Hall: February 2009 to January, 2012.
It was in 2009, as construction plans were being laid out for the new city hall building, when Seoul City first decided to incorporate a new space into the plan dedicated to communicating information on city affairs to the public.
Following noted civic activist Park Won-soon’s inauguration as the new mayor of Seoul in October 2011, questions arose as to whether the public space planned as part of the new city hall really suited citizens’ needs. It was then that the idea of “returning” part of Seoul City Hall to citizens themselves began to rise to the surface. But when numerous meetings with experts and senior government officials over the next 4 months failed to render a solution, and relentless searches for benchmark examples at major public or government organizations in and outside Korea came up dry, doubts about whether the project could even get off the ground began to fill the air.
Hearing citizens’ opinions: February to April, 2012.
The city finally decided to solve this problem by hearing what citizens themselves had to say: a survey with 613 citizens was thus carried out in February, 2012, to gather opinions on what the purposes of the new space should be. The survey revealed that what citizens wanted was a space for education, debate, culture and the arts, information dissemination, and recreation.
Planning with the Citizens Task Force and collective intelligence: March to May, 2012.
Seoul City then assembled the Citizens Task Force, an expert committee comprised of art directors, cultural event planners, interior designers, architects, and others, to better systematize and realize the public’s opinions. The final plan for Citizens Hall was as a result of the dedicated research carried out by this task force, and three workshops held between the task force and NGO representatives, government officials, and development companies, respectively.
All parties finally agreed that 8,150 square meters, or 9 percent of the total area of the new city hall building, would be opened up to citizens. The first underground floor of Citizens Hall would have a more flexible design to accommodate performances and exhibitions, while the second underground floor would have a more fixed design to suit educational programs and debates.
It was also during this process that the Chinese characters, 市民聽, were proposed to comprise the name of the new space to symbolically represent the government’s commitment to listening to citizens and incorporating their opinions in policies.
Developing platforms and programs for greater civic participation: May to December, 2012.
With the process of civic participation itself considered the desired end result of Citizens Hall, the space had to be capable of accommodating a wide range of public activities, including debates, exhibitions, and performances. Along these lines as well dozens of programs catering to different types of citizens (i.e., passive, active, group or individual) were developed for the diverse spaces of Citizens Hall.
Enacting ordinances to ensure the legal standing of Citizens Hall: November, 2012.
The Municipal Ordinance on the Operation and Management of Citizens Hall was enacted on November 1, 2012, reflecting broad agreement on the need for institutional frameworks that could support public participation and communication in the new space. The municipal ordinance provides the legal ground for organizing and operating the Citizens Hall Operation Advisory Council, and gives citizens the right to use the facility for various public purposes.
Opening Citizens Hall: January, 2013.
Citizens Hall finally opened to the public on January 12, 2013, after 4 years of broad and active civic participation in its planning and construction, and immediately began to offer an array of public programs including performances, exhibitions, debates, seminars and lectures, markets, and others, as well as a space rental service.
Successful establishment and growth.
The Operation Advisory Council has met once a month since the opening of Citizens Hall, and a special event was held not long ago to celebrate the Hall’s first-year anniversary. Moreover, new members have been recruited for the Citizen Planners Group, and new programs to raise public awareness of the Hall are being continuously launched. Indeed, the Hall has never stopped buzzing with activity since it opened its doors.
The Seoul Speakers' Corner has been expanded in scope from its original incarnation, with multiple podiums newly installed at various locations outside Citizens Hall. Titled “Seoul Speakers' Corner on Tour,” this program has heard 377 proposals and complaints from citizens so far, and carried out actions on 73 percent of them, or 271, including increasing the number of low-floor buses for people with disabilities and creating a new park in Shinyeong-dong. The Policy Café has been renamed “Talking about Policies,” and given new components for enhanced participation, including mobile channels and a more systematic structure of deliberation and decision-making involving all relevant departments within Seoul City Hall. The program has received 19 proposals so far, and translated 10 of them into action. Of the remainders, five are still under review and four are up for working-level discussions now.
Under the Wedding Program, introduced to reduce the extravagances of Korean wedding culture and place the focus back on the meaningfulness of the wedding ceremony itself, 57 weddings have been held thus far in various locations in and around Citizens Hall, including at the outdoor garden of the Seoul Institute. Seoul City plans to offer 21 more public spaces and facilities for small weddings in the near future. The Wedding Program also offers pre-nuptial classes for engaged couples, and has thus far produced 265 graduates.
Citizens Hall also houses the Citizens Library, filled with books donated by citizens, and Bench Park, a place where citizens can rest. With these and other elements added by citizens’ initiatives, Citizens Hall continues to evolve and expand in new and beneficial ways.
Seoul Bookstore, which formerly only displayed and sold books about Seoul, now offers for sale all books and publications published in Seoul, no matter their topic. The bookstore has also implemented a more systematic management structure.
In addition, Citizens Hall rents out its spaces to the public for such things as book club meetings and classes. In 2013 alone, 445 such rental bookings were made. By the end of August 2014, that figure had already rose to 545. The daily average number of visitors similarly increased from 4,622 in 2013 to 5,273 in 2014.
Citizens Hall has been embraced by the people who are appreciative of its welcoming atmosphere and convenient facilities, all of which are geared toward them. Notably, to show greater sensitivity to the needs of women, more breastfeeding rooms have been added to the Hall, and to assist people with disabilities, more specialized elevators have been built. For exhibitions, more partitions and signage are now available.
Citizens Hall is staffed with qualified, well-trained people. Not only are staff members given detailed instruction on carrying out their jobs, they also receive thorough, weeklong safety training each month on evacuation plans, the use of fire extinguishers and automatic cardiac pacemakers, and other related topics, based on customized safety management manuals and careful simulations.
Stakeholders and participants
Citizens: Actively guiding every aspect of Citizens Hall.
Citizens are, by far, the major stakeholders in Citizens Hall. It was, after all, their request for “an open space for the free use of citizens” that formed the bedrock of the facility.
Citizens also determined the name and brand of the Hall, as well as one of its most important programs—the Wedding Program. From its inception until now, citizens have continued to make active suggestions for improving the space: it was also they who suggested more convenience facilities for people with disabilities and better signs. Who better to know what the people need than the people themselves?
NGOs: Developing and operating Citizens Hall programs with Seoul City.
Six months prior to the opening of Citizens Hall, the Citizens Task Force met with various NGOs and social enterprises, including the Korea Environment Council and the Family Happiness Culture Institute, to develop programs that would encourage civic participation. After 80 or so meetings, the participants finally agreed on the development of 24 participatory programs including the Seoul Speakers' Corner, the Policy Café, policy workshops, independent film screenings, the Citizens College, and those supporting fair trade and social enterprises. NGOs still remain actively involved in the operation of these programs, lending their resources and expertise.
Citizens Hall Team and the Seoul Foundation of Arts and Culture.
In an effort to operate and manage the new Hall as effectively and efficiently as possible, Seoul City organized the Citizens Hall Team in May 2011, well before Citizens Hall actually came into being. Comprised of city officials, the team worked closely with the Citizens Task Force to gather citizens’ opinions and incorporate them into the design and concept of the facility.
In November 2012, the city commissioned the Seoul Foundation of Arts and Culture (SFAC) to manage Citizens Hall, hoping to inject the foundation’s rich resources and extensive networks in the cultural arena into the Hall’s artistic programs.
Financial resources: Making use of the underground spaces of the new city hall building.
Public and commercial establishments have little use for underground spaces, as they are hardly well equipped for daily administrative and commercial tasks. Seoul City, however, looked upon these spaces with new eyes, seeing the potential and advantage of turning normally “dead” space into a hall for citizens at no extra construction or rental cost. The cost and period for construction of Citizens Hall were minimized thanks to wide civic participation in its design and development.
The value of citizen participation in the design aspect cannot be overstated. Their active input resulted in a flexible and open layout, free of inessential décor and furnishings, which helped to cut down costs considerably. For citizens, the flexibility of the space took precedence—a flexibility only realizable in an unfettered space.
Human resources: Citizens and NGOs volunteering their talents and time.
The Citizens Task Force and the Operation Advisory Council held 22 strategic and review meetings in total to devise the best possible floor plan for Citizens Hall. Their activities form a significant part of the civic participation process in Citizens Hall.
Members of the Citizens Task Force, in particular, willingly volunteered their time and talents for conceptualizing, designing and building Citizens Hall as well as for developing its various cultural programs.
Many NGOs in Seoul also took active part in program development for Citizens Hall. Specifically, over 80 meetings were held between the Citizens Task Force and these NGOs to develop the many diverse civic participation programs offered at the Hall. Such programs continue to be operated on the basis of close consultation and cooperation between the Citizens Task Force and NGOs.
The city, moreover, appointed 13 members (including 11 citizens and 2 government employees) to the Citizens Hall Operation Advisory Council, to advise on the planning and operation of the Hall’s major activities.
Technical resources: Online channels for opinion gathering and specialized technical support.
From the very beginning of the Citizens Hall project, Seoul City sought out citizens’ opinions on its creation by sharing its plan with the citizenry and gathering feedback via its official website. Once Citizens Hall came into being, the city launched a dedicated website. Citizens can register their complaints and suggestions not only on the Hall’s official website, but also through various other online channels, including Twitter and Facebook.
Complaints and suggestions made from the Seoul Speakers' Corner are also video- and audio-recorded and relayed to the relevant departments of Seoul City for immediate review and implementation. Citizens’ opinions recorded on “Yeoboseyo,” a sculptural icon of Citizens Hall, are re-played over the speakers throughout the Hall, adding to the space’s significance as a center for open communication.
A model of operation centered on citizens.
The overall operational plan for Citizens Hall was decided based on citizen surveys, while the Citizens Task Force, comprised of citizens, and the Operation Advisory Council, made up of citizen experts and city officials, held dozens of meetings to develop, together, the Hall’s diverse public programs, including the Policy Café and the Vitality Concert. Civic participation in the operation of the facility is legally guaranteed by a municipal ordinance (enacted in November, 2012), while the Operation Advisory Council continues to advise on various citizen-planned programs in the areas of communications, plaza politics, cultural exhibitions, and charity.
A mode of public communication led by citizens.
Citizens Hall features diverse new platforms upon which citizens can initiate and lead conversations on the policy issues that interest them. Thanks to policy discussion meetings and other diverse channels, Seoul citizens are no longer passive, voiceless recipients of policy benefits, but exercise increasing influence over shaping and implementing policies. Policy discussion meetings, the Policy Café, policy workshops, the Seoul Speakers' Corner, and other such programs actively encourage citizens to speak up on various issues that impact them and their communities.
Various divisions of Seoul City Hall also hold policy briefings and others to gather citizen opinion on policies. Until now, 201 such gatherings have taken place at Citizens Hall, with a total of over 330,000 citizens participating.
A space to foster more autonomous and cultured citizens.
At Citizens Hall, citizens not only communicate with the city and one another, but also take part in various self-development programs and cultural events, including performances, exhibitions, debates, and seminars.
Citizens Hall hosts 23 regular programs, including the Hanmaum Flea Market, the Vitality Concert, and the Friday Art Class, and holds permanent exhibitions on the Media Wall and at the Cloud Gallery and the Gungisi Relics Exhibition Center. Over 75 percent of its available spaces have already been booked by over 900 teams from various NGOs, corporations, and government agencies. Citizens Hall, furthermore, hosts quality exhibitions and performances year-round, and is actively reshaping Korean wedding culture in Korea with its Wedding Program. The Hall is considered a city “hotspot,” attracting up to 6,000 visitors daily.
A way for citizens to communicate and participate on and offline.
Citizens Hall is also accessible online (www.seoulcitizenshall.kr) and via mobile devices. Just by visiting the Hall’s official website, anyone can gain updates and information on the various programs and events being held at Citizens Hall, register their complaints, and share their thoughts and reviews with others, instantly.
Early online survey and opinion-gathering efforts.
An online survey was conducted with 1,100 citizens in the planning phase of the Citizens Hall project, specifically from February 2 to 10, 2012. In addition, new channels were opened on Seoul City’s official website, Facebook account, and blog to hear citizens’ issues and suggestions. Opinions shared via online channels continue to influence the operation of, and the programs offered at, Citizens Hall.
Review and reinforcement via workshops and meetings.
The plans produced by the Citizens Task Force were thoroughly reviewed in three in-depth workshops and in over 80 meetings held between the Citizens Task Force and NGO representatives, city officials, Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture representatives, and the developer.
The experts participating in these meetings helped to locate and devise better alternatives for problematic areas, and made the required changes to layouts and plans.
Ongoing satisfaction surveys and monitoring.
Six satisfaction surveys on Citizens Hall have been held with visitors, and complaints and issues are continuously registered through various channels.
In particular, the satisfaction surveys, conducted in April, July, and October, November, December of 2013 and April of 2014, were participated by 354, 847, 1000, 422, 892 and 489 citizens, respectively. The participants in each survey gave relatively high satisfaction scores, ranging from 83 to 93 percent. On the latest survey conducted early in 2014, 92.2 percent of participants reported satisfaction, and 92.3 percent reported willingness to return again.
This ongoing monitoring process has led to over 170 improvements to the operation and facilities of Citizens Hall, including the assignment of additional guides; the installation of additional lamps, surveillance cameras, and signs; and the revising of the rental criteria to increase the number of rentals. The Citizens Voice Box installed at Citizens Hall is for gathering complaints and suggestions from citizens who lack access to online channels.
Overall monitoring by the Operation Advisory Council.
The Citizens Hall Operation Advisory Council meets at least once a month to deliberate and decide on major issues pertaining to the Hall’s operation. The council is made up of citizens of various backgrounds—artists, activists, broadcasters, performers, and people with disabilities, and others—as well as city officials.
Internal resistance at City Hall, overcome with the Mayor’s effective leadership.
The idea of opening up part of Seoul City Hall itself to citizens invited much criticism and resistance within the city government. City officials mainly feared that increased contact with citizens would increase the number of complaints, and also open the way for too much meddling from citizens and NGOs in policymaking. At first, it seemed nearly impossible to overcome this authoritarian way of thinking that had for so long been at the center of the bureaucracy.
Mayor Park, a former activist who rose to the top of the city’s decision-making structure, met with all stakeholders and resistant officials one-by-one with the hope of persuading them of the value of the idea.
The mayor’s effective leadership propelled by his conviction that increased communication with citizens would lead the way to policy success was how such internal objections were eventually overcome.
Project anxiety, overcome by establishing public-private partnerships.
Another obstacle came in the form of worry—namely over the potential that citizens would not take much interest in assuming a leadership role in developing the programs of Citizens Hall, since they were so accustomed to government programs being handed down to them by bureaucrats.
To put this worry to rest, the city set out to establish a governance structure that made participation by NGOs and citizens integral to the entire operation of Citizens Hall. Throughout the design and formation of the Hall, the Citizens Task Force led efforts to gather and systemize citizen input. Programs were also developed, launched, and operated with the help of NGOs experienced in public-private partnerships. The Operation Advisory Council was also established, with the majority of its members enlisted from the citizenry, to ensure that citizens themselves took charge of Citizens Hall.
In summary, Citizens Hall was created from the very first stages of planning and design and onwards with citizen input as the main variable. Citizens’ voices came first in matters of operation as well, heard through the Citizens Task Force and the Operation Advisory Council. Moreover, citizens and NGOs were actively enlisted in the processes of planning, design, and construction of facilities as well as in the development and operation of various services and programs.
Impact and sustainability
Increase in civic participation and transformation of public communication.
Seoul citizens now have an official venue to raise their voices and participate actively in policymaking. For instance, the majority of opinions and suggestions shared at the Policy Discussion Meeting on Fostering Poetry and Literature, held at Citizens Hall in June 2013, were actually translated into policies and have been implemented. These include four major policy aims, one being the nurturing of an urban environment that fosters poets and is appreciative of poetry, and 25 specific programs to be launched and completed to achieve those aims.
Citizens speak their minds at the Seoul Speakers' Corner as well. The speeches they make here are instantly relayed to the relevant departments in the government for prompt review and deliberation by city officials. The policy discussion meetings and the Seoul Speakers' Corner stand at the center of Seoul’s new culture of civic participation in which citizens are encouraged to participate actively in making the policies they need. The collective intelligence shared via these channels has enabled Seoul City to improve the quality of the policies it enacts and implements.
Increased public awareness of social and economic issues, spread of successful programs.
Citizens Hall houses a permanent exhibition of fair trade goods, including over 1,600 products from 100 small and struggling businesses, such as those run by young people and people with disabilities. The fair trade exhibition, in which products are also sold, has significantly increased public awareness of fair trade and the importance of supporting businesses that face specific challenges.
Citizens Hall also has its own Wedding Program. This program has been praised highly by citizens and the media for pioneering a new wedding culture in Korea. Citizens who held their weddings at Citizens Hall speak of how nice it was to have the wedding they wanted at minimal cost. The Wedding Program is an excellent example of how public institutions can make significant changes to the daily lives of people, and will be imparted to other public organizations and governmental institutions.
Increase in citizens’ satisfaction with, and trust in, the municipal government.
Since its opening in January 2013, Citizens Hall has welcomed over 2.3 million visitors, or an average of 4,900 visitors a day. An online poll conducted with 1,000 Seoul citizens in November 2013 revealed that 86.9 percent of participants were satisfied with the programs offered by Citizens Hall. The poll also showed a significant correlation between increased civic participation in government affairs and a rise in satisfaction level with the government.
In other words, Citizens Hall has fostered a lively atmosphere of civilian involvement, which has contributed to people’s growing satisfaction with, and trust in, the municipal government.
Breaking down remnants of authoritarianism.
Citizens Hall is of such major significance to Korean society because it encourages and facilitates communication among diverse groups of citizens and actually assists in incorporating citizens’ views into policymaking in a substantial and realizable way. Citizens Hall is the new “plaza of policymaking” that citizens have long hoped for.
The demand for participation in policymaking matters will only increase in the future, and in such an atmosphere, Citizens Hall will further solidify its status as the main symbol of democratic policymaking in Seoul.
In developing and developed countries alike, government practice retains a bureaucratic and exclusive air. In daily practice, citizens do not and cannot partake of matters of self-government to the extent denoted by that label. As it is the common aspiration of humankind to achieve democracy in all matters public, not only in the formal and procedural sense but also in the substantial sense, the success of Citizens Hall bears ample implications for democratic governance worldwide.
The more committed in action and louder in voice the citizenry becomes, the less authoritarian national and local governments can be, opening the door to freer exchange between citizens and government. Citizens Hall is a space that, on so many levels, eliminates once and for all the vestiges of an authoritarian bureaucracy.
Providing a turning point in the reform of public facilities.
As a space reserved specifically for communication—between citizens, and between citizens and the government—Citizens Hall provides a turning point in the drive for reform of government facilities geared toward communication with the public. Specifically, by dedicating part of Seoul City Hall for that purpose, Seoul City has effectively become an exemplar on how public facilities can be used to the best effect by the citizenry.
From Seoul, local government organizations learn that they can increase communication with citizens without building anything new. Just by returning part of Seoul City Hall to the public, citizens pay more visits to local governments, and make more of a point of expressing their thoughts through the various channels offered them there.
Government organizations looking to renovate or rebuild their public information centers also have much to learn from Seoul’s example. Public facilities in Korea tend to be located in the hearts of downtowns, easily accessible to all. Towns and cities can convert parts of their facilities into centers and symbols of communication taking Citizens Hall as inspiration.
Expanding and multiplying.
There is only one Citizens Hall in Seoul at present, and it is located in the middle of the city. In theory, it should be equally accessible to all residents of Seoul. In reality, however, residents of nearby areas benefit more from its existence than those traveling from far locations. In this respect, Seoul City will build additional Citizens Halls in other districts of the city to ensure public services are being provided on an equitable basis. The initiative will begin with establishing a Citizens Hall within the Seoul Trade Exhibition and Convention Center (SETEC) of the Seoul Business Agency.
Press coverage, benchmarking, and celebrity visits.
Citizens Hall is often featured in the Korean media, and has also been covered by international broadcasters like Voice of America, CNN, Ming Pao of Hong Kong, and Arirang TV.
Citizens Hall continues to receive innumerable inquiries about the process of its establishment, with visits made by 14 local government organizations and government agencies so far, including representatives from the metropolitan cities of Incheon and Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, and the Financial Supervisory Service.
Citizens Hall has also welcomed such luminaries as Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Laureate; and Bruce Crowder, the founder of the fair trade movement. Twenty-two graduate students of Harvard’s Kennedy School remarked upon their visit to Citizens Hall that it was indeed a space of which Seoul citizens should be proud.
Solving policy issues with citizens’ participation.
Strategic meetings between citizen experts and advisors on how to make best use of the new city hall building, held throughout 2009, were invaluable for envisioning and designing Citizens Hall. Once the Citizens Hall initiative was launched in October 2011, the city organized six roundtables with experts and advisors, and three joint meetings with senior officials, over the 4 months that followed.
Park Won-soon was inaugurated as mayor in February 2012. From the start of his term until now, he has consistently sought out answers to many issues of the city in citizens themselves. He led a survey with 600 citizens that queried the public’s views on city problems, a survey which proved to the mayor that social and policy issues can sometimes be resolved with incredible ease when officials actually listen to citizens. That is the power of democracy and collective intelligence.
Importance of providing a physical space for civic participation.
Though governments and citizens the world over have been making countless efforts to foster and enhance civic participation, no definitive answer on how to actually achieve that goal in reality has been found. In Citizens Hall, the world may have its answer.
Citizens Hall provides the physical space for, and multiple programs to enhance, public activities and communication among citizens. Social enterprises and NGOs have made over 990 reservations for the rental spaces so far. Countless exhibitions have been held, drawing over 560,000 visitors in total. The over 2,000 regular programs offered at the Hall, including the Vitality Concert and the Citizens College, have garnered enthusiastic responses from over 370,000 participants.
Citizens Hall is the icon of public participation in Korea today. It daily draws up to 6,000 visitors. Its many exhibitions, debates, and cultural programs among others have provided a much-needed spark for Seoul citizens to get involved and get their voices heard.
Fostering trust and minimizing policy costs.
Trust is an invaluable social capital, and spreads first and foremost when citizens can honestly place their faith in, and communicate with, their government. The Citizens Hall project has significantly enhanced mutual trust between Seoul City and citizens. This, in turn, has helped to eliminate the administrative costs of distrust, and has facilitated the making and implementation of effective policies.
Policy implementation often involves spending huge amounts of taxpayers’ money. Citizens Hall provides an excellent example of how enhanced mutual trust, garnered through effective public-private partnerships and open discourse on policy matters, can secure the success of policy projects and minimize budget waste.