Participatory Budgeting and Community Organizing: Update from Chicago

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Participatory Budgeting continues to move forward in Chicago’s 49th Ward, thanks in large part to community organizing. Since November, dozens of community representatives have been meeting regularly in six committees: Parks & Environment, Public Safety, Traffic Safety, Streets, Transportation, and Art & Other Projects. Starting with ideas proposed at neighborhood assemblies, they have been developing full project proposals – and doing the legwork necessary to make these proposals a reality.
Each committee has been working as a team to assess project ideas, research their feasibility, and work through key details. To develop a proposal for a new bike path, the Transportation Committee has reached out to Loyola University and Chicago transportation officials, trying to build support for a preferred route and navigate the legal obstacles to implementation. The Public Safety committee met with the 911 Center and Police, and after reviewing the results of different public safety measures has shifted its emphasis from blue light security cameras towards more street lighting. Park & Environment has organized separate community meetings to discuss proposals for a community garden and dog park.
The community representatives are now gearing up for the final voting day (April 10th), when all ward residents age 16 and over will be invited to vote for up to 8 projects. Each committee is working to mobilize public support for its proposals, through the ward’s participatory budgeting blog, other blogs, community meetings, and word of mouth. The Art & Other Project committee is even organizing an exhibition of proposed projects at a local art space. Many of the committees are thinking even further into the future and discussing how to continue organizing around their key issues after the voting. The residents of Chicago’s 49th Ward are turning participatory budgeting into not just a vote over spending, but also an opportunity to organize their neighbors around improving their ward and their city.

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