On April 17, 2012, the City Council of Vallejo, California approved the first annual city wide Participatory Budgeting Project in the United States. With $3.4 million and vast ideas from the citizens, the Vallejo Participatory Budgeting Project gave residents and business owners the freedom to choose and create projects for the community to be funded. More than 800 ideas for projects were pitched, and 36 showed up on the ballot. Residents who were 16 and older had the opportunity to vote on these 36 projects the following year.

Those who received the most votes got to split the $3.4 million to fund projects such as park benches, community gardens, and more.

But what is Participatory Budgeting?

Participatory budgeting, or PB for short, is a different, yet effective way to distribute money that is well needed in the community. PB was first developed in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and since then, over 1,500 cities around the world participate in PB.

The process of Participatory Budgeting is as follows:

1) Citizens come together in small neighborhood assemblies and brainstorm ideas to pitch to the community. Ideas range from fixing roads to community gardens, scholarships, and more.

2) Citizens narrow down the list of ideas, choosing the best ideas for volunteer budget delegates to make into projects, or proposals to present to the citizens to vote on.

3) These ideas are then put on a ballot for citizens to vote on. Whichever idea gets the most votes ultimately gets funded by PB.

PB is a great way to engage and assemble the community to ultimately better itself. There are six different angles and benefits where in PB stands that engages citizens to participate.

Deeper Democracy, where in everyday citizens get a chance to let their voice be heard. They get a say in the city and an actual chance to make a political decision, something that most citizens do not have. This also means that the people create a better trust within their local politicians and government.

Transparency and Accountability, where in the citizens know and see where the money is being spent. This leads to a reduction in opportunities for waste and corruption.

Public Education, where in participants of PB get a deeper knowledge into the world of politics. They become more active and informed citizens who learn about true democracy through the process of PB. Citizens also get a deeper understanding of community issues and complex political issues concerning their city.

Informed Decision, where in decisions on the budget are given to the citizens, who have a deeper understanding of their community and environment.

Fair Spending, where in all citizens and participants are given the equal opportunity to vote on what they want. When citizens spend time to discuss community issues, the real issues of the community stand out, giving the citizens knowledge on the true issues that need to be changed.

Community Building, where in citizens get a chance to socialize with other fellow citizens. This leads to a stronger bond in the community and ultimately a deeper connection within the city. 

“The city of Vallejo has just exited bankruptcy in 2011…we have a real stigma and negative image of the city and PB has really helpful in trying to improve the image of the city,” says Marti Brown, a former Vallejo Council member a champion of PB. “Since then there has been a huge shift in peoples minds about the city and the people who live there…it’s great to have something good to talk about with the city.”

PB gives the citizens the power over real money that can be spent for the community. Because of PB, the definition of true democracy has changed.

Participatory Budgeting participants in Porto Alegre, Brazil

“The thing about PB is that you are giving control to the public. There is great possibility here.” -Marti Brown

Photos courtesy of: http://commons.wikimedia.org/ and Flickr user 401 (K) 2013 (Creative Commons)