Friday, March 08, 2013

missed opportunities in vejle kommune

here's what they ended up with as the last "kulturhus" they built.
oh, the joys of bureaucracy. and small minds. and small thinking. it's enough to make a girl want to just throw up her hands, tear her hair out and just ask, "why, why, why?" (and that last bit isn't just because i've been listening endlessly to paul simon's graceland in the car.)

we chose our falling down farmhouse at least in part because it was located in the outback of vejle municipality (more like a county in american terms), but it was still part of vejle, which made it seem less like the back of beyond and more part of the real world. vejle (population 51000) seemed like a happening place, progressive and successful and not all THAT far into jutland (the bit of denmark that's actually attached to the continent). but the more i encounter this municipality, the more i realize we really had the wrong impression of them. or perhaps vejle is changing, becoming increasingly small-minded and afraid to dare anything - i think that crisis will do that to some places and if those in charge aren't strong and full of ideas, well, things disintegrate a bit and devolve into increasingly impenetrable bureaucracy that seems to be lazily circling the drain. it's arguably true of the current national danish government as well, so vejle isn't alone in their lack of big thinking.

but let me back up a little teeny bit: as you know, denmark is proud of their welfare state, but financing it is becoming, shall we say, a little bit problematic. it's all well and good to be generous to those who are out of work, but when unemployment rises, there's suddenly quite a LOT of those people and it's a big burden on the system. so there's a whole lot of talk every day in the news about how to stimulate growth and create jobs and prop up that welfare state.  there are special "acute jobs" advertised (the government promised 12,500 of them last autumn). they are for people who have been out of work for more than 2 years and the company who provides the "acute job" will get paid a bonus if they still have the employee after a year. it's kind of like affirmative action for the long-term unemployed.

another thing the government talks about is creating jobs in the public sector by initiating infrastructure projects and building things like "culture houses" out in little towns on the far flung edges of the municipalities. so the process as the bids were let for our coming culture house was quite surprising to me in light of this.

the project was officially let on EU terms (oddly, not with the intention of applying for EU funds for it, which i would have thought would be the reason). since denmark is (to a limited extent anyway), part of the EU, it meant just following the EU bureaucracy surrounding the bid process around public projects. i also (mistakenly again) thought it would mean that the project description would be provided in other languages than danish, to truly open it up to the whole EU, so that there might be an influx of fresh ideas from abroad. wrong again. it was an EU bid, but only in danish (so good luck to anyone not happening to speak/read that minor language) and only advertised locally.

but worst of all, in view of the way that the government goes on and on about how the economy needs a kick start and people need to start businesses and create jobs, was that the requirements on the experience front were so extensive and long, that no companies but the largest, oldest, most established could possibly bid in on the project. completely excluded were the young architects who might come with fresh, amazing ideas, just out of architect school. completely excluded were new companies (and new ideas, i fear). it was, in short, a direct suppression of the entrepreneurial spirit by the very government that's purporting to want to support it.

when i dared to bring it up and point out that we were actually excluding young entrepreneurial talents, i was assured by our dear friend the tender manager (you may remember her from this post), that the big firms would engage them, so we would still benefit from their talents. no supporting evidence was provided to back up this statement. and i'll believe it when i see it.

so, out here in the sticks, we are going to have a new "culture house" and it's going to be built by some old, established firm who has built 10 others and it won't be unique, or special or give some young architect a leg up in his first job. and i think that's a shame. but apparently there's not so much action behind all of that government talk about supporting entrepreneurs and creating jobs.

* * *

meanwhile, elsewhere in the same municipality, the little museums have all been consolidated under one big bureaucratic umbrella. this has left some of the little ones, like my favorite one in randbøldal, to be run largely by volunteers, who do an absolutely splendid job. an active group of weavers and paper-makers ensure a wonderful, relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, as well as events - like a historical market and a second-hand market. it is a real haven.

but recently the big central museum decided they needed a bit more control over the place, so they began sending out a young woman (who has the curious (and slightly alarming) title of formidlingsleder - literally "leader of dissemination") to meet with the volunteers. sounds like a title that would have fit right in in nazi germany, don't you think?

the volunteers have, for ten years, had a big array of projects which they have done, finding money for them themselves by applying for various grants and to various charitable foundations. for example, they've just released a book featuring ten years of their tea towel designs and they have created an absolutely lovely little museum shop that is filled with handmade goods, artfully displayed.

the replica of egtved pige's dress (one of those well-preserved danish mummies) used to come to randbøldal for the winter, when the little building at her gravesite is closed. i say used to, because as you recall, her dress was stolen late last summer. so these fearless and conscientious and ambitious volunteers in the weaving group decided to get in touch with the textile artist who had created the replica (the real one is safe in the national museum in copenhagen) and work with her to weave a new one to display at the grave and in randøldal in the winter. they did extensive research and were even working with someone who had special, traditional sheep for the fibers, so they could spin wool that would be as close as possible to the original.

i'm using the past tense, because the leader of dissemination put a stop to it (and they weren't even being asked for funding) - in a very confusing and not direct way (it's typically danish to be afraid of conflict and pretty much a national disease among danish women) that left the weaving group feeling very bad indeed. she later sent a mail wherein she explained that it had been decided that an expert with a degree in reconstruction of ancient textiles would be engaged to make a new dress (because those are a dime a dozen in denmark and surely won't cost anything). remember, the real dress is safe and sound in the national museum, so they are being denied the opportunity to make a well-researched replica (which is precisely what the one that was stolen was). and the woman who made the original replica was a dancer who did dance performances as egtved pigen, so not an ancient textile expert. what a silly decision, don't you think?

* * *

so where is it all going wrong? i think that both are instances of very limited thinking. there's no room for imagination and ideas and creativity and solutions and definitely no room for initiative. and i think our world is going to become a sadder and poorer place for it. we need open minds and open hearts and open thinking. but how on earth can we have those things today?


will said...

You're a smart person, possibly the smartest I've met in Blogland. I'm surprised you asked that question...

It's the "Listen Little Man" syndrome, the extreme growth of bureaucracies, too many people w/ a hive mentality ... toss into the mix - abused democratic institutions, demagoguery, politicians without skills and failing educational systems.

There's another insidious force loose in the world. Corporate conservatism has oozed into small places and small minds. There are too many people who find it easier to go along with corp-speak instead of standing up and questioning stuff.

Other than that, we're doing just great.

julochka said...

I guess I'm being intentionally obtuse because I don't want to believe it. can't we do something to fight it?

Veronica Roth said...

Oh god, now you’ve got me wanting to write letters and wanting to learn Danish to write them in! Not that letters will help. They certainly don’t help when we deal with the British village councils about village idiots who defy building regulations and get away with it because they have the council members hands in their pockets and they certainly don’t help here in Vancouver because...well...similar reasons, and also including complications with the First Nations who have a claim to 110% of BC anyway. Bah! More public awareness maybe? Write a book Julie. Write magazine articles. Interview the new talent, interview the weaving ladies, send this essay to the newspaper, get it out there. (I know, like you don’t have enough to do)

will said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
will said...

Update concerning our local issue... fighting the county government over a single county department (it's probably just two guys) wanting to build a mega sports complex in a rural residential neighborhood.

One of the things that's quite clear: Bureaucrats are skillful with their use of internal documents- rules and regulations - which the average person doesn't know exist.

Bureaucrats also create all sorts of panels and committees, again the public is generally unaware of these groups - but these committees, created by the bureaucrats, provide implied legitimacy.

That said, the bureaucrats become proficient at crossing all the "t's" and dotting the i's". So, as citizen groups take on an issue, they start from behind the 8-ball.

There are two avenues left: Being political and lobbying local government representatives and (2) raising money to pay attorney fees for appeals and lawsuits,

A nearby citizen group more or less fought off a land developer who wanted to cram 100's of houses in a small area. The citizens fought it to the State Supreme Court, more or less one but it cost them about $150,000.

Bureaucrats know our limits and, as long as their paperwork meets the appearance legal conditions, they feel exempt from a democratic process.

One last thing: Lobbyists. They are always in the mix but they are hidden players. They are people with big money who are pushing the bureaucrats and politicians to do something. These people usually keep themselves out of the fray. They're definitely in the background and exerting powerful influence and they let their surrogates doing the work.

Meanwhile, we are just average people attempting to stop a disaster from occurring and it ain't easy.

julochka said...

veronica - i think i'll take that advice, thank you!

bill - you're absolutely right that they're crossing all of the Ts and dotting the Is so that there's technically no errors - that's actually what makes it infuriating - calling it an EU tender, but not really making it available in the languages of the EU. it's utter crap.