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Park Uses and Features: Branding and Community Participation
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Participatory Democracy and Participatory Budgeting

23-Apr-2012 [1151]

One of the things that can be observed when we try to understand governance models in democratic countries is the notion that citizens can participate by making "informed choices" directly about money or laws is not the norm. Instead, most decisions are made behind closed doors by elected officials working from recommendations by management or consultants who are professionals rather than community stakeholders. With few exceptions there is no direct route for citizens directly impacted by choices. When local governments host open processes or take deputations it is because city councils are making decisions, but wants to "consult" constituents or educate them. This can be confusing for the citizen because information is released in a manner that obfuscates the data, jargon is used, chairs allow or disallow certain processes or direct discourse to what is permissible, which limits citizen participation to short deputations or in public processes that are inaccessible to most members of the public. Ultimately, citizens are dissuaded from making recommendations that are not considered viable "chairs" or liasons who tell them if they want to be included in stakeholder disscussions they need to work in a pre-defined manner.

However, with the participatory budgeting process the goal is to draw in citizens, allow ordinary people rather than experts to conduct research, and return some public money to citizen control. Financial choices are made by residents for their own communities. Though the citizens do not vote on tax increases nor change the amount in the pot to accurately reflect community needs they do get to actually spend real funds on community needs.

Chicago ward 49 alderman Joe Moore, a couple of years ago started Participatory Budgeting. He invited his constituents to share some power with him and choose some projects to spend tax money on that they saw as beneficial to the community.

Joe Moore wrote:
" 49th Ward residents 16 and older, regardless of citizenship or voter registration status, are invited to gather at a local high school to vote for up to eight projects, one vote per project. This process is binding. The projects that win the most votes will be funded up to $1.3 million."

Here is the link to the article from the Chicago Tribune:

New York City, began a process of Particpatory Budgetting, and here is an article in the New York Times:

Except for an alderman in Chicago who started the process in his district two years ago, politicians haven’t exactly been champing at the bit to hand over control of their budgets. But there has been a gentle nudge by the Participatory Budgeting Project to introduce the concept to other cities. It hosted talks in New York City, where the Chicago alderman, Joe Moore, and other experts discussed the process.

There is a non-profit group in New York that has been advocating for participatory budgeting

Here is the link to the International Conference which happened in New York March 30-31, 2012. Participants in the conference include Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is a New York City Council Member, fomr the 8th District, and Josh Lerner, from The Participatory Budgeting Project who co-wrote the article cited on Guelph spoke at the Conference in New York. Cézar Busatto from Brazil also spoke at the Conference.

There is an interesting CBC podcast that interviews some of the particpants. Jim Brown of CBCs the Current discusses Participatory Budgeting with Cézar Busatto , Secretary for Political Coordination and Local Governance of the City of Porto Alegre, Brazil where this type of consultation was first developed. He also interviews New Yorkers. There is also a reference to the city of Guelph, On, where there is also a tradition of participatory democracy.

Here is a link to a video on participatory budgeting in New York, which happened March 2012. The interviewer begins by following an average New Yorker in District 8. Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito The video documents the impact this process young man in the video, Stefan Poaches, and his friend, Blue, decide to join the District 8 Parks and Recs Committee to try to get community improvements to a basketball court in their neighbourhood. They learned about City Budgets as they researched projects that would help people in their community. 1048 people voted by ballot on projects they liked. Unfortunately, their project did not get chosen for funding, however the participants felt better.

September 14 was the formal launch, after the Steering Committee decided on the ground work.

Residents were curious, and wanted to know how money was allocated, so they joined neighbourhood assemblies. Stakeholders enjoyed talking to one another and being active. From November to February. Delegates conducted investigations and wrote up final proposals for their neighbours feedback. The narrator advices people to "Regain your right to the city. Real Money. Real projects. And real power. Make it real with your vote."

The Vermont Town Hall meeting differs in that citizens can actually change revenues and make important political/financial decisions. There are certainly varying levels of citizen control, and while the particpatory budets are small it certainly allows a lot of community stakeholds to gather and discuss and spend real money.

In Guelph, Ontario citizens get to help decide how money is spent in their neighbourhoods through the Neighborhood Support Coalition(NSC) Here is a link to an article that is about Guelph. One of the contributers is Josh Lerner, who is quoted in the New York Times article cited above, as well as a member of The NSC consists of grassroots neighborhood groups and representatives of public agencies, foundations, and the municipality, who redistribute resources for local projects, such as recreation. In 2007 the NSC controlled 0.1% of the $137 million municipal operating budget of Guelph and they use a unique process called participatory budgeting to decide how a small portion of public tax money is spent. However for every $1 given by the municipality, NSC receives $5 in in-kind donations or cash from other sources. So, in 2007, the NSC’s cash budget was $320,000 from the municipality plus $650,000 in in-kind contributions from community partners, such as office space.

The History of Participatory Budgeting in Guelph In 2000, the NSC, 12 groups from around the City, which had been consulting with city staff on spending in their communities formalized their budgeting process in a written agreement and began making the transition to naming it “participatory budgeting.”

How does this work? Neighborhood groups elect their representatives to the NSC's committees from local residents. Participatory budgeting decisions are finalized by the NSC Finance Committee, which is made up of elected representatives from the 12 neighborhood groups. Agency partners participate, while municipal staff facilitate, however only neighbourhood representatives vote. The Committee draws budget plans, allocates money, and advocates for funding to sustain and expand programs and meets monthly to share information and make recommendations and decisions.


The NSC budget deliberations start in December and allocations are decided by April, but it is another year to implement project funding.

1) The NSC gathers to talk about citywide priorities for the next year and review the budgeting process. NSC members contribute to the pot of money for the year's budget by engaging partner organizations and sponsors.

2) Residents get together in their local groups to understand citywide and local spending priorities. Based on these get togethers, each group plans what they envision in their community, along with a "needs" budget and a "wants" budget for its vision. The residents elect two delegates to represent their group in the NSC Finance Committee.

3) The neighborhood delegates elected from the 12 neighbourhood groups meet in the Finance Committee to present their budget needs and wants to each other. NSC partners and City staff outline the budget funds that are available. After the meeting, neighborhood delegates return to their groups to re-evaluate their needs and wants, based on the information from other groups and sponsors.

4) The Finance Committee meets again to decide on budget allocations. The delegates negotiate and make compromises on the proposed activities, until they can agree by consensus on a budget.

5) Neighborhood groups implement and monitor their projects through a yearlong funding cycle. They also raise funds from partner organizations and sponsors, to build the pot of money for the next year.

How does the money get distributed? This is slightly different than the model from Brazil for participatory budgeting where residents make choices, and monitor spending. The Brazil model sounds very much like Elinor Ostrom's theory on administering the commons successfully.

1) Guelph residents use consensus rather than a majority vote to decide how to distribute funds.

2) Citizen groups themselves directly spend the budget allocations, rather than monitoring spending by public officials.

3) NSC groups spend most of the money on community services, such as after school programs, parenting programs, anti drug campaigns, clothing closets and community-building activities such as neighborhood picnics and barbecues. Many participating residents are from low-income or ethnic minority neighborhoods.

However, the classic model looks more like this: Diagnosis, 1. Generally, the process starts with residents identifying local needs, 2 generating ideas to respond to these needs, Deliberation,
3. electing delegates to represent each neighborhood or community.\ 4.These delegates then discuss the local priorities and collective decision-making,
5. Develop concrete projects that address them, together with public employees.
6. Residents vote for or negotiate which of these projects to fund, 7. The delegates and public officials to piece together a final budget. Execution
8 The institution implements the chosen projects, Monitoring.
9. Residents monitor this implementation.

The core principles: democracy, equity, access, community participation, fairness, education, and transparency. Participatory budgeting creates democratic and engaged cities in ways that token polls or consultations do not by actually having citizens spend money on projects that serve their needs.

Participatory Budgeting traces its roots to Brazil

1. Participants in Porto Alegre identify priority projects and choose how money is allocated

2. Municipal staff give technical information but only the participating citizens are allowed to vote

3. Staff are accountable for carrying out the decisions of citizens

The article I looked at also mentioned Sherry Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation and this model of civic engagement, which it identified as corresponding with the top three "citizen power" rungs.

The council voted 4-3 to launch a process known as "participatory budgeting," setting aside 30 percent of revenue collected from a sales tax hike initiative voters passed in November.

Under City Charter provisions, public-proposed uses for the estimated $9.5 million a year ultimately will require council approval.