Participatory Budgeting for More Equitable Distribution of Services

In today’s issue of The New York Times, Gina Bellefonte reports on a practice for involving communities in budgeting of public money in her article “Participatory Budgeting Opens Up Voting to the Disenfranchised and Denied.”

Bellefonte explains that “New Yorkers in 24 City Council districts were engaged in participatory budgeting. The concept, imported to us from Brazil, where it began in the city of Porto Alegre in 1989, allows citizens to determine how a certain segment of municipal money might be divided up in their neighborhoods. This year a total of $25 million, a tiny but growing portion of the city’s $75 billion budget, will be spent through the process by voters across the city.”

Here’s another passage from the article:

“Participatory budgeting, which began in New York City in 2011 with four Council districts, is both an instrument of relatively small but meaningful revolution and a useful tool for anthropological inquiry. So much can be determined about a neighborhood’s evolving identity and where it falls on the gentrification spectrum from what residents decide they want to do with the money allocated for their districts. On the ballot in Astoria, Queens, is a proposal for a dog run costing $500,000; one of 13 proposals in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is for a $250,000 storytelling garden with a possible statue of the Knuffle Bunny. (At a voting site on Eighth Street in Park Slope on Tuesday evening, hummus was served.)”

This type of involvement can produce economic and social benefits for communities that allocations determined by others cannot. Besides that, local residents take part in the voting — creating a habit of voting among populations that may feel disenfranchised; the habit of voting will, ideally, extend to other elections.

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