Fifth ward votes on budget

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Fifth Ward residents voted May 4 to select neighborhood infrastructure projects funded by $1.3 million in aldermanic “menu money,” In These Times reports in the third installment of a series on the process.

Street lights and a community garden on 71st Street got the most votes, with other winning projects ranging from sidewalk repairs and security cameras to public murals.

Ald Leslie Hairston was one of  three aldermen implementing participatory budgeting this year, four years after it was introduced here in the 49th Ward, and thirty years after the concept was pioneered by the Workers Party in Brazil.

A core of volunteer community representatives spent months winnowing down 150 ideas raised in brainstorming sessions last October into specific, feasible projects.

Only 104 residents turned out in the 5th — more than 400 voted in the 45th and 46th, and 1,427 voted in the 49th — and volunteers later discussed ways of improving outreach and turnout next year.

In New York City, where participatory budgeting was introduced on a small scale last year, organizers have succeed in boosting the participation of low-income residents — far above their turnout rate in local elections — as ITT reported in a previous installment. That article charts the history of participatory budgeting around the world, where it’s been deployed with varying degrees of success.

Maria Hadden of the Partipatory Budgeting Project points out that, while voter turnout matters, the opportunity throughout the process for residents to “develop a community voice and learn how to use it” is just as important.

“When I’m driving around the city, I’ll say, ‘Oh, they’re doing this here,’ or ‘they’re doing that there,’” one participant told ITT.  “I’ve always wanted to be a ‘they.’

“Communities always have things put upon them,” said Angela Sims, an intern with UIC’s College of Urban Planning, who volunteered for the project. Participatory budgeting “can bridge the ‘they’ and the community,” she said.

Series author Joel Handley will lead a panel discussion of the lessons to be learned from the Chicago experience for the Illinois Humanities Council on June 11 at the Cultural Center; more information here.

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