I just came back from spending my Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the birthplace of Participatory Budgeting. I was asked to speak at the 10th Metropolis World Congress on the 49th Ward’s experience with Participatory Budgeting.
The conference was sponsored by the World Association of Major Metropolises, an international organization of major cities from across the globe. It operates as a forum for exploring issues and concerns common to all big cities and metropolitan regions.
I was honored to share the 49th Ward’s experience as the first U.S. political jurisdiction to adopt this model of democratic decision-making and to learn first-hand the experiences of Porto Alegre, Barcelona and other cities across the globe who have made Participatory Budgeting a part of their municipal governance.
I shared the stage with Melissa Mark-Viverito, a New York City Councilmember who, together with three of her colleagues, is emulating the 49th Ward’s Participatory Budgeting model in New York City. Also joining me was Rogers Park resident, Maria Hadden, who serves on the 49th Ward Participatory Budgeting Leadership Committee and now works for the Participatory Budgeting Project, a national organization that is committed to bringing Participatory Budgeting to the U.S.
Porto Alegre adopted Participatory Budgeting in 1989 as a way of engaging its citizens in directly determining the city’s fiscal policy and more fairly allocating city resources. Since then, it has been adopted in various forms by thousands of cities across the globe. The 49th Ward was the first political jurisdiction in the U.S. to adopt Participatory Budgeting, and now four city council districts in New York City are following suit. Greensboro, North Carolina, next year will become the first U.S. city to implement it on a citywide basis.
We met with the Mayor of Porto Alegre, Jose Fortunati, as well as community organization representatives and ordinary residents of Porto Alegre, who shared with us their experience with “PB.” Not surprisingly, the government officials in Porto Alegre believe the experiment is working just fine, while some of the community organizations and residents expressed concern about the length of time it takes to implement the projects approved by the PB process and whether the process is truly representative of the people of Porto Alegre, especially the poor.
Their concerns serve as a cautionary note as we move into our third year of Participatory Budgeting in the 49th Ward. The bureaucratic delays in implementing some of the PB projects in the 49th Ward have proven frustrating and the Leadership Committee and I are very aware of the need to broaden community participation in PB and have made it our top priority this year.
The next phase of the 49th Ward’s 2012 Participatory Budgeting process begins this evening when the community residents who have volunteered to serve as Community Representatives meet for the first time as a group to begin the process of determining the infrastructure projects that will appear on the 2012 Participatory Budgeting election ballot.
I will keep you regularly informed as the process moves forward.