Tag Archives: participatory budgeting

Expanding participatory budgeting

Many Chicagoans involved in “participatory budgeting” in four Chicago wards this year “want to see the program expand,” Joel Handley reports in the final installment of a series in In These Times.

In the 5th Ward, the most popular choices of residents voting on how to spend aldermanic “menu money” included beautification projects like a community garden on 71st Street (the top vote-getter) and a community mural, along with public safety projects like streetlight repairs.

But “the inadequacy of the ward’s menu money to fix the ward’s most demanding problems — housing foreclosures, school closures and gun violence” — could be a reason that turnout wasn’t higher in the 5th Ward, according to Handley.

“Some are eyeing the public schools budget or the entire city budget” as areas where participatory budgeting could play a role.

In Porto Alegro, Brazil, where PB was invented in the late 1980s, the process governed “much of the city’s budget,” and residents voted to build affordable housing, pave roads, build schools and deliver clean drinking water.  In a poor district of Mexico City, residents reclaimed public lands, distributed food and gas to poor residents, and slashed the salaries of elected officials.

South Shore resident Elliot El-Amin thinks PB should be brought to bear on Mayor Emanuel’s $50 million private fund for anti-violence programs.

“At the press conference he had announcing this, the mayor only mentioned youth basketball leagues,” El-Amin said.  “If that’s all you can come up with, with $50 million dollars, I think somebody’s got  lot more money than they’ve got ideas.”

Next year, several more wards are expected to introduce the process.  Last year the first citywide participatory budgeting program in the U.S. was initiated by Vallejo, California, a Bay Area city of 116,000 people.

Participatory budgeting in the Fifth Ward

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.