On March 30 and 31, Committee for a Better New Orleans (CBNO) and our partners in the New Orleans Coalition on Open Governance (NOCOG) went to New York City for a conference on Participatory Budgeting. Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a process that is used in New York, Chicago, and hundreds of cities worldwide where residents develop and chose the City projects to implement.
PB has been in place around the world since the 1980s, but it is relatively new to the US. Chicago has used PB in one Council District for the past 3 years, and New York is implementing PB in four Council Districts for the first time this year. In both Cities, each Councilmember has around $1 million for Capital Projects in their District. Previously, the Councilmembers would decide where to spend the money on their own. With PB, the Councilmembers have given up the decision making power to the residents of their District.
Both Chicago and New York have a five step Participatory Budgeting process. First, the Councilmember and PB team host a series of public meetings to get project ideas from the community and to get volunteers, called budget delegates, to review the projects. Second, the budget delegates take the ideas and develop them into proposal. The budget delegates combine similar projects, work with City staff to determine what is feasible, and estimate the project cost.
Third, once the budget delegates have reviewed the projects, they hold another series of public meetings to decide which projects are most important. Fourth, these projects are put on the ballot for the community to vote on. The City will fund the projects with the highest number of votes. Finally, the City will implement the projects, with the community holding the City accountable. On March 31, New York City held their vote. In one Council District, more than 2,200 people vote, and they funded public school bathroom repair, planting new trees, new technology for public schools, repairing pedestrian paths in a park, and more.
Participatory Budgeting is a tool to get more residents directly involved in deciding how their tax dollars are spent, and CBNO and NOCOG would like to explore how to get PB in New Orleans. New Orleans City Councilmembers do not have a large pot of money for Capital Project, so it will take some creative thinking on how to adapt PB for New Orleans. The only way to get PB in New Orleans is if residents want it and are willing to work for it. To get involved in working for PB in New Orleans, please contact Nick Kindel at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on PB, go the Participatory Budgeting Project’s website. For information on PB in New York and Chicago, go the http://pbnyc.org and PB in Chicago’s 49th Ward website.
 Each City has their own definition for what is a Capital Project. In general, Capital Projects are physical infrastructure that have a lifespan of at least five years. Capital Projects includes things like road repairs, sidewalks, park improvements, tree plantings, etc.