The idea is as simple as it is profound: A city earmarks a portion of its planned capital budget to be spent by residents. Anyone can suggest an idea for the money’s use, which is then vetted for practicality and cost. Surviving proposals are subject to a public vote; the top vote-getters are included in the city’s next budget. Governments from San Diego to the African island of Mauritius are liking the result.
Participatory Budgeting originated in 1989 in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, spread to other Latin American nations, then to Europe and Africa. Chicago Alderman Joe Moore brought it to the US in 2009. Fostered by the nonprofit Participatory Budgeting Project (www. participatorybudgeting.org), it has spread quickly. In 2010, Chicago’s pilot year, 1,650 people spent $1.3 million on 15 projects; in 2015, 132,000 people in 13 North American cities allocated $97.5 million to 500 projects. Another 43 US municipalities and seven in Canada are getting ready to join the club.
Some cities, such as Greensboro, North Carolina, use PB citywide; others, such as Chicago and New York, allow individual council members to use it in their districts if they wish. In either case, the process is similar and usually allots $750,000 to $1 million for the public to spend.
In every locale, the process is similar: For a period of several days each year, any resident can submit an idea. It can be anything from emergency call boxes in public parks to free ice cream on the Fourth of July.
A city’s PB administrators will schedule an event or two during which the public can gather to learn about the process and deliver their ideas. More often, officials go to happenings already scheduled, such as music festivals, socials at senior centers or parents’ nights at schools.
By showing up at these special events, a PB team can elicit ideas from specific groups – the elderly, minorities, young adults – that often don’t make the effort to make their way to an evening meeting and “listen to bureaucrats,” as one city’s PB coordinator put it.
TRENDPOST: This is another sign of the rising tide of Direct Democracy. As we stated in the Summer 2016 Trends Journal: “In fact, voting online, with full transparency, would prove more secure than any polling place run by party operatives. Indeed, we bank online and buy online; surely we can vote online!”
We forecast that examples big and small of Direct Democracy will increase and gain momentum. And we stick to our position stated in the summer Trends Journal: “With fast-accelerating advancements in technology, from artificial intelligence to virtual reality, the only obstacles to online voting are the people’s will to make it happen vs. the politicians and special interests benefiting from the current corrupt system.”