· About 4 minutes read

The Shadow City

The Shadow Parliament Project is now almost two years old. The software is still under heavy development and the user interface is still not great, overly cluttered and a bit tricky to start using, but it’s certainly getting there.

About a week ago The Shadow City was launched – skuggaborg.is – a instance of the Shadow Parliament software specifically for Reykjavík’s governance. At the time of writing it has 3410 registered users and 479 active issues with 1037 arguments either for or against the issues. I don’t have a tally of how many individual votes have been cast, but in general there seems to be a new trend of participatory democracy going on.

Lets look at that 3410 number for a moment. 85808 people have voting rights in Reykjavík, which gives us 3.97% of the population is now using the system. To have gotten almost four percent of the people in the city to sign up voluntarily over a one week period cannot be brushed away as a small thing.

The cause of this is interesting too. When Besti Flokkurinn (literally: The Best Party) had an absolute landslide, taking 6 of the 15 city council seats, it was clear that something had changed. I honestly wasn’t sure at first if this was an elaborate practical joke or not – as can be seen in my last article – but as the week has progressed it has become clear that the Best Party is actually planning some pretty interesting changes. Late last Sunday evening Gunnar Grímsson, the guy who’s been fighting for and building the Shadow Parliament project, contacted me and told me that “oh by the way, the city is going to be organized via the Shadow City, but don’t tell anyone just yet.” Of course, I didn’t even get a chance since around midday Monday it was public knowledge.

The rate of signup appears to be fast. From when I started trying to figure out how to write this article on Thursday evening at about ten, until now, Friday lunchtime, more than 100 new users signed up.

To say that I am gobsmacked would be an understatement. If anything, I’m confused by the sheer logistics of this. Gunnar is doing an absolutely fantastic job curating the site while the various Best Party members are running around introducing it (and their slowly emerging political agenda) to people.

Here’s some random examples of issues that have been brought up:

  • Siblings should be able to attend same playschool
  • Add more bicycle paths all around the city
  • Cover walls and housing for all waterslides at swimming pools
  • Remove the sand dunes by the Bryggjuhverfi
  • Direct democracy for part of the city budget
  • Shoot the seagulls
  • Ban the use of nailed tires within city limits to reduce polution
  • Income pegging of playschool fees
  • More fountains
  • Keep swimming pools open 247 at least one month during summer

Of course there’s all sorts of interesting distributions and statistics. Some issues are outright silly whilst others are low hanging fruit. Some are complicated and expensive whilst others can be accomplished without any major expenditure. Some are mundane governance issues, others are holistic revamps of the structural philosophy of the city. It’s all good.

Did I mention that this is an exciting time to be in Iceland?