Participatory budgeting in the Fifth Ward

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In These Times is following Fifth Ward residents as they grapple with participatory budgeting, a public process for allocating infrastructure dollars.

Forty residents are serving on committees to sift through suggestions from the public and come up with proposals to be voted on in May.  At this point, ideas range from the mundane — more streetlights — to the fanciful — a heated driving range at Jackson Park’s golf course.

Invented by the Workers Party in Brazil in 1989, participatory budgeting was introduced in Chicago in 2009 by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore.  Residents discuss and vote on proposals for spending the $1.3 million in aldermanic menu money each ward gets annually for small infrastructure projects.  This year, three additional aldermen are implementing the concept.

“In a city not inclined to involve the public in decision-making,…the democratization of ward menu money is a small step, but a significant one,” writes Joel Handley.

The article is the first installment in a series that will follow the process through the final vote.

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