The mission of PB is to open up civic participation to people who have never before been involved. The goals of implementing PB in Chicago wards are equity, inclusion, community building, and to make government spending more effective.
Participatory Budgeting in Chicago
Every year, each alderman is allocated $1.3 million in aldermanic menu funds – yes, there is literally a menu to spend on infrastructure—that is, street and sidewalk repaving, curb replacement, bike lanes, street light replacement, and other capital projects. In most wards, this money is allocated by the alderman, with varying degrees of input from city departments, staff, and residents.
Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. The process was first developed in Brazil in 1989, and there are now over 1,500 participatory budgets around the world, mostly at the municipal level. The first PB process in the US was launched here in Chicago in 2009 by former 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore.
Often, residents are very familiar with their neighborhoods and might have unconventional ideas that can improve their daily commute, parks, schools, and more. Participatory budgeting is a tool that taps into that resident genius and allows it an incubator space.
Since taking office in 2019, Alderwoman Hadden has continued the legacy of participatory budgeting in the 49th Ward by making available $1 million of the discretionary capital funds (“menu money”) to the community to decide how to spend through the participatory budgeting (PB) process.
How it Works in the 49th Ward
In the 49th Ward in Chicago, the process starts with idea-collection. We collect ideas by hosting neighborhood assemblies, sharing an online submission form, and posting flyers throughout the ward prompting people to share their ideas with the office. In the 11th cycle, Alderwoman Hadden asked a broad, open-ended question to encourage residents to re-think how we can approach government with a partcipatory mindset. This question was: "if you could change one thing about our community that would make life better for you, what would it be?"
Once people have submitted their ideas during the idea collection phase, they are then sent to committees made up of volunteers. Those volunteers vet the projects and conduct research on feasibility and cost. They then develop the projects so they may be placed on the ballot. In the fall, the projects proposed for the ballot are presented to the community at project expos, explaining how those projects came about and answering questions from the community.
During the 11th cycle of participatory budgeting in the 49th Ward, Alderwoman Hadden implemented a new component to the process. PB49 added a new committee for policies and programs. The ballot items from this committee are not eligible for the traditional $1 million in capital infrastructure funding, but will instead help Alderwoman Hadden develop an agenda to pursue in the 49th Ward and citywide. Residents will be able to vote on different policies and programs that were submitted during the idea-collection phase during the participatory budgeting voting phase.
After projects are shared with the community, all ward residents 14 and older are invited to vote on projects. Residents can either vote online or in-person during a voting event. Once the votes are tabulated and the winning projects are announced, the 49th Ward office works closely with city departments to implement them.
This exciting process puts transparency into how the city spends our tax dollars and gives residents a real voice – by offering ideas and voting for specific projects – into how that money is spent in our ward.
Who knows better what is needed in our ward than us?