PB Wrap-Up: 20,000 people, $16.7 million, 91 projects

This spring, the 2012-2013 cycle of participatory budgeting in the US came to a close with the conclusion of public voting in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Vallejo (CA). Overall, 20,000 people voted to allocate over $16.7 million for 91 community projects that were developed by residents. Working with dozens of partners in these cities, we nearly tripled the scale of PB in the US, building on the $6.6 million allocated by 7,300 voters last year.

The first city-wide PB process in the US took place in Vallejo, California, where 4,000 citizens and non-citizens voted to allocate over $3.2 million to 12 projects. With both infrastructure and programs eligible for funding, winners included college counselors & scholarships, small business grants, street lighting & repairs, and a cost-saving spay & neuter clinic. Thanks to months of targeted outreach and publicity, funded by the City of Vallejo and the Davenport Institute, voters in Vallejo turned out at a higher rate than in any other jurisdiction using PB in North America. Although PB was initially approved in a tight 4-3 vote, on May 28th the City Council voted 6-1 to accept the results of the public vote.

In New York, residents of eight participating City Council districts voted on 122 projects proposed and developed by community members. Over 13,000 people cast ballots to allocate $9.4 million for 45 winning projects. Funded projects included pedestrian safety improvements at dangerous intersections, new playgrounds and park facilities, dozens of laptops for eight schools, and a solar-powered greenhouse atop a public housing development. It was especially inspiring to see residents of the Rockaways voting in PB after the process in their district was suspended for three months by Superstorm Sandy. In an exciting development, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito funded $1.9 million in projects, nearly doubling the $1 million minimum.

Through an abbreviated pilot PB process, residents of San Francisco’s District 3 decided how to allocate $100,000 of Supervisor David Chiu’s discretionary funds. Nearly 500 people voted, and historically underrepresented communities participated in disproportionately high numbers. The 8 winning projects included one-time back rent and homelessness prevention grants for up to 25 households, a public awareness campaign to educate seniors about consumer scams, and 500 new Chinese language books for the North Beach and Chinatown branch libraries.

In Chicago, where PBP and the Great Cities Institute coordinated an expanded PB process across four wards, over 2,500 people voted to allocate $4 million for 26 projects. Winning projects included community gardens, a new elementary school sports field, bike lanes, and street lighting.

At the start of the International PB Conference in May, Chicago Alderman Rick Muñoz announced that he will join the next cycle of PB Chicago. In New York, at least two new City Council Members will join PBNYC. These PB processes have inspired similar initiatives in Buffalo, Hamilton (Ontario), and Halifax (Nova Scotia). Elsewhere, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has announced plans to launch a $1 million youth PB process, and Carmen Yulin, Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is preparing to launch PB in her city.

We’re currently in conversation with community groups and officials in over a dozen other cities, so stay tuned for more news about millions of tax dollars to be decided by the people, for the people.