This originally appeared on Gapers Block.
The residents of Chicago's 49th ward will vote on Saturday to determine what to use $3.1 million of city money on. The far north side ward was covered with fliers urging residents to vote in what is the first attempt in Chicago to use a democratic process for determining how to use infrastructure funds.
Each ward is given a budget to use for infrastructure, and the money is usually spent by the Alderman's office on permanent items such as street lights and pavement repairs. However Alderman Joe Moore in the far north side ward decided to open the process to the community and to let residents vote on proposals created in open committees.
The Mess Hall, an artist space with anarchist tendencies has a display that highlights the various proposals on the ballot. The space has had extended hours and has been packed with residents hoping to find out about the proposals.
Some of the proposals include: street lights, repaved streets, police surveillance cameras, bike lanes, historical markers, dog parks, decorative and educational bike racks and free wi-fi.
Mess Hall has notepads posted next to proposals for viewers to write their own ideas. Hundreds of ideas were written on these pads, and many ideas built off of each other. One line of thought went from creating memorials to birchwood trees that used to reside in the neighborhood, to planting actual birchwood trees, to planting "birchwoods as public monuments to tell the story of colonization."
Mathias Regan of Mess Hall said that he hoped that Roger Park's experiment with participatory budgeting would serve as a model for other wards and cities. Regan called it, "one of the most interesting and exciting projects I have seen." Regan said that "absolutely" the participatory budgeting process created more creative and people oriented ideas than a proposal made in committee secluded from an open and democratic process would have.
The process began in January and each resident has 8 votes to split among 36 different proposals. Residents are able to vote by proof of residency, such as bills mailed to an address in the 49th ward. The money will be spent on proposals in descending order of votes received, since many of the projects cost less than the total money being allocated.
The process has been wildly popular. On the first day that Alderman Moore's office was open to early voting over 100 people voted for the budget. During the 2008 presidential election 9 people arrived to early vote on the first day.
Mess Hall will host a program at 6:30 Friday night on the history of participatory budgeting.