Voting on 5th Ward budget begins

Staff Writer

Participatory budgeting has been well received in the Fifth Ward, but it may be a few years before it becomes a household name.

Maria Hadden, project coordinator for The Participatory Budgeting Project, said about 35 people arrived to the first participatory budgeting expo on April 10 at the Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside Ave. She expected up to 50 more people at Saturday’s expo at the Catholic Theological Union, 5416 S. Cornell Ave.

“I’m anxious to see more people come out to learn about the project. The feeling among the community has been pretty good so far,” Hadden said.

Each year every Chicago alderman is given $1.3 million in menu money that can be spent at the alderman’s discretion on infrastructure improvements within the ward. This year Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) was the first alderman on the South Side to allow her constituents to choose what she spends her money on.

Proposed projects for the Fifth Ward include repairs and murals for the viaduct under 56th Street, street repairs and sidewalk repairs.

Participatory budgeting was first done in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. It allows voters and the public to decide how much of the municipal budget should be spent on certain projects. In Porto Alegre more than 50,000 people have voted each year to decide as much as 20 percent of the city’s budget, The Participatory Budgeting Project said on its website.

Toronto Community Housing, in Canada, which provides housing assistance to low-income residents, has used participatory budgeting since 2001. Residents have decided how the department will use between $3 million and $9 million.

“It’s proven very successful there,” Hadden said. “Every participatory budgeting experience is a little different, and I think we’ve encountered a lot of cynicism in Chicago.”

Because Chicagoans have come to expect a lack of transparency in their government, most people like the idea of telling their legislators how to spend public money, but then they add, “this sounds great but it’ll never work in Chicago,” Hadden said.

“That’s great for everybody else but for some reason they’re really cynical and I think that I try and keep people open minded and trying to keep some perspective about what’s happening in Chicago,” Hadden said.

Participatory budgeting is in its fourth year in the 49th Ward, which includes Rogers Park, Edgewater and West Ridge.

As many as 1,600 people have voted to spend Ald. Joe Moore’s (49th) aldermanic menu money on street lights, street repairs, sidewalks, disability access to the beach, playgrounds, public art along viaducts and bike lanes.

Any Fifth Ward resident aged 16 and older is able to cast up to six ballots to fund a handful of proposed projects that would improve the infrastructure within the ward. Early voting will begin April 30 and run through May 2 at the Fifth Ward Service Office, 2325 E. 71st St.

The final voting assembly will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Gary Comer College Prep, 7131 S. South Chicago Ave.

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