In 2009, the 49th Ward became the first in Chicago to engage in a process known as participatory budgeting, in which community members vote directly on how to spent municipal funds. Since then, each year Alderman Joe Moore has turned over his ward’s $1.3 million in “menu money”—funds earmarked for infrastructure projects—to the community, which has voted for everything from sidewalk repairs to public murals. This year, four other Chicago wards carried out their own participatory budgeting programs.
This spring, in its series “Direct Democracy in Chicago’s 5th Ward,” In These Times Magazine has followed 5th Ward residents as they navigate the budgeting process. On June 11, series author Joel Handley will lead a panel discussion of the lessons to be learned from how the participatory budgeting program has worked in Chicago, and how effective it has been in empowering residents to take part in the fiscal decisions that impact their communities. The panel will also explore the possibilities for replication of on a larger scale and what it might look like if more of the city budgetary decision making was under the direct control of Chicago citizens.