Monday, June 4th, 2012
Chicago’s 49th Ward–home to Loyola University Chicago and Rogers Park–has, for the last few years, been experimenting in a very interesting exercise in direct democracy. NPR reports:
In 2009, the ward’s alderman, Joe Moore, became the first elected official in the country to hand over the purse strings to his constituents. Three years later, the experiment is still attracting new residents to planning meetings.
“I am ceding my power to decide how this money is spent and giving it to you,” Moore said to a group of about 40 people on a cold November night last fall.
Residents sat in folding chairs at the Willye B. White Community Center as Moore told them that each ward in Chicago gets $1.3 million a year from the city to spend on capital improvements.
Usually, the aldermen themselves decide how to spend the money. For the third year, Moore is using an alternative process called “participatory budgeting.” The first step is a series of neighborhood meetings, where people call out ideas. [...]
Giving budget power to residents has changed what gets done with infrastructure money. When Moore called the shots, he chose only meat-and-potatoes projects–street repairs, a new crossing signal or two. Under the new scheme, the ward’s residents have funded showers at the beach, heated bus shelters and a $110,000 dog park.
Some skeptics say participatory budgeting allows small voting blocs to band together and push through pet projects. Those who like the process say that at least with this approach the people wielding power are not the rich or well-connected. Instead, they’re regular citizens who choose to put in the time.
Moore explained that about 400 residents attended the nine neighborhood meetings in the fall, and more than 1,300 residents showed up to vote on the different projects–21 of which were selected to make it on the final ballot. The results in this year’s voting? Fifty-three percent of the $1 million budget will go to street repairs; the rest will be spend on trees for a park, sidewalks, a playground, and murals.
Read more on the project here.