Great Cities project gives citizens a say in budget

Rachel Gordon

Rachel Weber: the goal is to involve as many residents as possible. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Residents of four Chicago wards will be empowered to decide how to spend $4 million in taxpayer dollars through a participatory budgeting process coordinated by the Great Cities Institute.

“The residents won’t just advise their aldermen. They’ll actively decide where the money goes, through established planning procedures — community outreach, needs assessment, proposals and voting,” says Rachel Weber, associate director of the Great Cities Institute.

Aldermen John Arena (45th), James Cappleman (46th), Leslie Hairston (5th) and Joe Moore (49th) signed on to work with Great Cities and the nonprofit Participatory Budgeting Project.

“Our goal is to reach the areas of greatest need and to involve as many residents as possible, especially those who previously haven’t participated in politics,” Weber said.

“Ultimately, the initiative will foster a sense of ownership and connectedness in the community.”

Moore became the first elected official in the U.S. to try participatory budgeting in 2009.

Residents of the 49th Ward allocated more than $3 million for urgent sidewalk repairs, a new playground, murals at transit viaducts and shade trees.

This is the first time the other Chicago wards will use participatory budgeting.

The process began over the summer with a citywide steering committee and ward leadership committees.

This fall, ward leaders and aldermen will seek citizen input and ask for volunteers on committees for specific issues.

Proposals will be presented to the public in March and April and residents will vote on projects in May, then aldermen will submit the prioritized projects to the city.

Community representatives will oversee the projects and report to residents on their progress.

The project is supported by grants from the Chicago Community Trust, the UIC Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement and The Field Foundation of Illinois.