With faith in government waning, cultural diversity spiraling, and fiscal stress straining the ability of policy makers to address the policy challenges accompanying these developments, the salience of (re)connecting citizens with government takes on renewed urgency today. Nowhere is this more the case than in urban America, where so-called global cities teeming with ethnic diversity and controlling a disproportionate amount of global business in the world economy confront profound citizen participation challenges, choices, and opportunities. In this installment of Theory to Practice, the authors cull lessons from their 10-year action theory–based assessment and participation in the city of Los Angeles’ neighborhood council experience. Comparing and contrasting their findings in this global city with those from related studies on participatory mechanisms and deliberative processes more generally, they offer six lessons for those seeking to build stronger democracy in urban areas, argue that further advances require a greater research focus on the longitudinal implementation of these efforts rather than just on their design, and contend that university researchers have a role to play in these efforts as long as they appreciate the paradoxical nature of their participation.

Expert e-commentary by Brian Cook of Virginia Tech, Tina Nabatchi of Syracuse University, and John Thomas of Georgia State University on the perspectives and arguments culled from Los Angeles’ theory-based participatory efforts can be found on the PAR website (go to, click on the link to PAR, and then on the Theory to Practice link). These e-commentaries are accompanied by the authors’ response and instructions on how PAR readers can join the exchange.