Owen Brugh

Tell us about yourself.

I am Chief of Staff to Alderman John Arena of Chicago’s 45th Ward. I coordinate PB45. I also live in Jefferson Park, which is in the ward.

How did you first get involved in PB, and why?

I first learned of PB through a friend who worked for Alderman Joe Moore. Once I took my current job with Ald. Arena, we quickly started talking about bringing PB to the 45th Ward as a way of educating the community about city budgets, increasing civic engagement, and generating new ideas about how to spend the public’s infrastructure funds.[pullquote]Usually, in an alderman’s office, people contact us to fix an isolated problem. Through this process, we discussed not just what needed to be fixed, but what we wanted our community to be.[/pullquote]

What did you end up doing in the PB process?

I coordinated the process in the 45th Ward, recruiting and coordinating volunteers, running neighborhood assemblies, and assisting committees with research and planning. I also implement the will of our voters, making sure the projects are moving through the city bureaucracy.

What most surprised you about your experience with PB?

I was really surprised by the amazing knowledge base we have among our volunteers. So many of our volunteers came to the process with a background where they understood some principles of traffic management, community development, and urban planning. It was very refreshing. Usually, in an alderman’s office, people contact us to fix an isolated problem. Through this process, we discussed not just what needed to be fixed but what we wanted our community to be.

What were the biggest impacts of PB on the community? On you as a person?

Through some creative targeting, we were able to engage an entire area of our ward that was previously disengaged from government and cynical about elected leaders. It is wonderful to see some residents go from cynicism to self-empowerment in the course of a few months.

– December 2013