This Year’s 49th Ward PB Ballot Includes a Few Transit Projects

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A 49th Ward participatory budgeting expo. Photo: 49th Ward

Each of Chicago’s 50 wards gets an annual $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” funding to spend on infrastructure projects each year. Usually the alderman decides how the money is spent and typically most of the money is used for traditional projects like street resurfacing, sidewalk repair, and streetlamp installation.

However, the growing participatory budget movement, which lets constituents vote on how menu money is spent, has paved the way for more innovative uses, including many sustainable transportation projects. Seven years ago 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore pioneered participatory budgeting in the United States, and this year six other wards are holding PB elections:

Ward 10 – Susan Sadlowski Garza
Ward 17 – David H. Moore
Ward 31 – Milly Santiago
Ward 35 – Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
Ward 36 – Gilbert Villegas
Ward 45 – John Arena

In recent years, some activists in Moore’s diverse Rogers Park ward have argued that the PB process, intended to make the decision-making process for spending ward money more democratic, actually favors wealthier residents. They noted that there was relatively low participation from low-income residents, people of color, and Spanish speakers.

Moore’s assistant Wayne Frazier, who handles infrastructure issues, told me that the ward did additional outreach this year, and new residents were involved. The work of a Spanish outreach committee resulted in good turnout at the ward’s Spanish-language PB meetings, and there were generally 35 to 60 residents at all of this year’s PB meetings, Frazier said.

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A PB poll site in the 49th Ward. Photo: 49th Ward

On the participatory budgeting ballot, residents will first be asked to vote on the percentage of the ward’s $1 million infrastructure budget ($300,000 is kept in a rainy-day for emergency infrastructure issues) they want spent on street and alley resurfacing and sidewalk repairs. Then they will be asked to choose how to spend the remainder of the budget from among eight proposed neighborhood improvement projects.

Early voting starts next Saturday, April 16, at the ward service office, 7356 North Greenview, and other locations, and continues for two weeks. The main election day for the ward is Saturday, April 30th, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the Chicago Math and Science Academy, 7212 North Clark.

Here’s a presentation on all the projects 49th Ward residents can choose from.

A few transit-related projects are on the ballot. Residents can vote to spend $30,000 to paint a mural on the CTA embankment wall of Dubkin Park, 7442 North Ashland.

They can opt to spend $40,000 to install 11 bus benches in various locations throughout the ward, including southbound Clark Street at Touhy, North Shore, Pratt and Greenleaf; northbound Clark Street at Albion, North Shore, Pratt and Lunt; westbound Devon Avenue at Greenview and Lakewood; and southbound Sheridan Road at North Shore.

Another project on the ballot is curb cuts and a crosswalk at the CTA’s Howard Street terminal at 7557 North Paulina, which would cost $40,000. This would to allow people with strollers or disabilities to access the north end of the train station.

  • Being a politician is a hard job. Especially in a plutocratic set of systems like here in the U.S. Having a progressive set of values, actually pretty much any set of idealistic values, is hard to maintain when confronted with the day to day demands one faces in politics.

    About seven years back Joe Moore came close to losing his seat. Essentially he had lost touch with his constituents. I don’t know the exact route that brought him to Participatory Budgeting, whether he dug deep into his core or whether it was urged on him by advisors or whatever, but he went there. Since then he has not faced another stiff challenge (iirc). Even though I did not live in the ward I followed the first year of PB closely, attending at least one meeting at each stage of the process.

    I loved it. It was well run with a very, imho, substantial rate of participation. I haven’t been back as I now, as then, live in the 48th ward. I used to be in 49 but they moved me to 48 a few years after Joe was first elected Alderman. The thing with a new process is that indeed it can become routine and to a certain extent “gamed” by the experienced. It is good to see them attempting to keep participation diverse and high.

    In 48 we used to have Mary Ann Smith who had Planning and Zoning meetings once a month where representatives from various neighborhood groups would meet and vote on planning and zoning questions that she would bring before the committee. It was voluntary on her part to accept the vote. Just like ultimately so is PB on Joe’s part. Still it is hard for an Alderman to take back powers distributed like that.

    But our new Alderman, good ole Harry Osterman, has never seen fit to create some kind of participatory structure or process. He will likely get one more pass from the community before he too starts to find he has real opponents running against him.

    That PB is a valuable tool for an alderman is reflected in the fact that it is being adopted by others. Imitating sincere flattery and all that.

  • kastigar

    Ward 10 – Susan Sadlowski Garza
    Ward 17 – David H. Moore
    Ward 31 – Milly Santiago
    Ward 35 – Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
    Ward 36 – Gilbert Villegas
    Ward 45 – John Arena

    How many of these are “old-timers” and how many are newbies to the City Council? Are long-term members of the City Council adverse to participatory budgeting?

  • what_eva

    All listed except Arena are in their first term (elected last year), Arena is in his second (elected 2011). Joe Moore (elected 1991) is the only “old-timer” doing participatory budgeting.

  • Anne A

    Joe Moore changed his tune and introduced PB after nearly getting the boot several years ago.

  • Anne A

    I think that nearly losing his position was a serious reality check for Moore and that advisors probably nudged him towards PB.

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