PBP’s new Program Assistant Isabel Luciano talks about what she’s learned so far with PB

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The Participatory Budgeting Project welcomes a new Program Assistant, Isabel Luciano, to its staff.

Isabel Luciano

What did you do before you came to PB?

I had just completed my masters in Urban Planning at the University of Toronto. During that year, I interned for Social Planning Toronto and the Ontario Nonprofit Network. I’m Puerto Rican, but I lived in Canada during my formative years, so I would also call Toronto home.

Did Social Planning Toronto inspire you to apply to work at the Participatory Budgeting Project?

I’ve always been interested in affordable housing and poverty issues, and I spent a lot of time interning with organizations whose mission involve mitigating these problems, but I kept getting frustrated because it all came down to funding and the government never wanted to invest much. There’s only so much you can do when you don’t have money or interest. I also studied public participation in school pretty often, but didn’t know about participatory budgeting itself. When I saw the Program Assistant job posting, I thought it was a perfect way to join these interests. I also like that PBP had done work in Toronto with Toronto Community Housing, and liked the fact that it was expanding. Another thing that drew me was that it wasn’t location-centric. I always wanted to work somewhere I could help the largest number of people possible and not just be confined to one place.

What did you think of your first assembly?

I was impressed by the people. They all seemed to be really knowledgeable and it made me realize that we, as a society, and the way our political system is structured, don’t give people enough credit about their abilities. I noticed that with the youth participants. I think if we structure more things through processes like PB in ways that make people more engaged, we can help to create a more capable society. Especially as an Urban Planning student, you always kind of figure that that local knowledge about specific issues isn’t there, so getting to see that people are very aware of the issues (perhaps even more so because they live there) was pretty important for me.

I was impressed by the people. They all seemed to be really knowledgeable and it made me realize that we, as a society, and the way our political system is structured, don’t give people enough credit about their abilities.

How do you think it will evolve in the future?

It definitely seems to be expanding. I was really surprised to learn at the PBP conference that Puerto Rico and smaller communities in New Brunswick, Canada are attempting to implement it. I’m curious to see if it goes beyond the surface stuff and really become a part of the political system permanently. I feel like it has a certain cachet and can help make a place look more progressive, but will you really do more than the surface stuff? To me, that’s the real test.

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