Giving citizens a say on spending

participatory budgeting ward map

The four Chicago wards that use participatory budgeting.

City planners, officials, and activists from around the world will gather in Chicago this week to promote a new way of spending taxpayers’ money: letting residents suggest  projects and vote to decide what gets funded.

The Great Cities Institute partnered with the New York-based nonprofit Participatory Budgeting Project to support the participatory budgeting process in Chicago.

The three-day conference with experts from around the world, “Building a Democratic City,” begins Friday with a training workshop at UIC. Other activities will include tours of local infrastructure projects chosen through participatory budgeting, a Chicago voting returns celebration, and discussion panels on political strategy, inclusion, international networking, technical tools and more.

Speakers will discuss participatory budgeting in other cities in the U.S. and around the world.

Participatory budgeting began in the U.S. in 2009, when 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore became the first elected official in the nation to try it. Residents of his ward determined how more than $3 million would be spent, including $150,000 for urgent sidewalk repairs, $125,000 for a new playground, $120,000 for murals at transit viaducts and $75,000 for shade trees.

Last year, aldermen in three other wards signed on, allowing residents to decide how to spend $4 million in taxpayer dollars.

“Budget cuts are leading officials to look for more transparent, equitable ways to manage their remaining dollars,” said Rachel Weber, associate director of the Great Cities Institute.

“We’ve tried to involve as many residents as possible, especially those who previously haven’t participated in politics and neighborhood planning. Ultimately, the initiative fosters a sense of ownership over shared resources and connectedness in the community.”

Thea Crum, economic development planner at the Great Cities Institute, says participatory budgeting has spread to more than 1,500 cities worldwide since it was introduced in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  The United Nations promotes it as a best practice of democratic governance.

The conference is open to all. Registration is $60 for students and low-income participants and $125 for others.

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