We are disappointed but not altogether surprised at the decision by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) to suspend her experiment in participatory budgeting. While she cites expense, we cannot help but wonder whether the handful of voters who bothered to take advantage of her offer to help select budget priorities for the ward was anything approaching what she expected.
Participatory budgeting, as a movement, has its origins in South America, but the town hall meetings of New England are possibly a more appropriate antecedent to cite for a Chicago Ward vote. In either case, the idea is that citizens decide how a pile of tax dollars get spent. In Chicago, that has been a vote on a fund every alderman has for infrastructure improvements in the ward.
We have been surprised at how little interest this idea seemed to generate in Hyde Park, where aldermen have traditionally been expected to get an earful wherever they go about how they should do their jobs. Here’s a chance to literally say how taxes should be spent — often considered the most important part of the job — and the voice of the people fell silent. What gives?
Admittedly, this is not the city budget, which many Hyde Parkers, we are sure, are eager to take a red pencil to, nor is it purely discretionary spending: many of the available items are run-of-the-mill items like lighting. But there were also opportunities to support murals and community gardens — music to Hyde Parkers’ ears.
We expect that some are correct in saying that, should Hairston try the experiment again, voting must be made more convenient. Also, we suspect that, with all the bellyaching we do about our politicians, maybe there’s a vote of confidence in this lack of voting. It would appear Hairston is trusted to properly prioritize the nuts-and-bolts work that needs to get done in the Fifth. Nevertheless, it seems downright un-Hyde Park to turn down a chance to weigh in on the local budget.
We believe Hairston should give this excellent idea another shot — and this time, Hyde Park needs to show up.
After all, if you’re not voting, why are you complaining?