I am a member of the Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee, convened by the University of Illinois Nathalie Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement and the Participatory Budgeting Project. The role of the Steering Committee is to work with the University, community based organizations and members of City Council to bring participatory budgeting to every ward in the City. The 49th Ward, headed by Alderman Joe Moore, is the first and only ward in the city that has an active participatory budgeting process. Alderman Moore, his staff and ward volunteers have been very helpful in our understanding of how the process works in the 49th Ward. We are taking lessons learned from their experiences to apply to what we hope will be a city wide program in which each alderman works with their constituents to identify and prioritize infrastructure projects that will be funded through their annual $1.3 million infrastructure menu. The menu covers things like street lights, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, street resurfacing, etc. It does not cover costs for running programs and services.
The 49th Ward process is set up such that resident-headed committees identify improvements that should be made, do the research as to how much the improvements cost and interface with the City agency responsible for the work. The committees then hold assemblies where they make presentations to ward residents. The projects are refined, and then later included on a ballot, to be voted on by community residents on a day set for voting. On the day of voting, residents go to one of the local schools to cast their votes. If they wish, they can walk through an exhibit area to review displays of the projects and speak with committee members who are promoting the various projects.
To date, there are a handful of aldermen from other wards who have signed onto the process, or have expressed strong interest. These include Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th), Alderman Ameya Pawar (47), Alderman Scott Waguespack (32) and Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22). To date, Alderman Munoz is the only West Side Alderman to sign on or show interest.
Do you think participatory budgeting should be implemented on the West Side? Why or why not? Would you be interested in learning more about the process? Please let me know.