This Saturday a grand experiment in democracy will occur in the 49th Ward of Chicago. Alderman Joe Moore is asking for residents to tell him how to spend $1.3 million. Yup, that’s how much money each alderman gets to spend on capital projects each year at their discretion.
Residents in [the 49th] ward have met for the past year — developing a rule book for the process, gathering project ideas from their neighbors and researching and budgeting project ideas. These range from public art to street resurfacing and police cameras to bike paths. The residents then pitched their proposals to their neighbors at a series of neighborhood “assemblies” held throughout the ward. [link]
The projects proposed [PDF] are pretty typical of what you would expect if you asked people what they want to happen. Street repaving, lights, security cameras, a dog park and bike racks. You can see the proposals at Mess Hall until 6 pm Wednesday. But the catch is that the residents of the 49th Ward will now voice their opinion on what should happen first.
Critics say that aldermen shouldn’t be in charge of projects like this…That’s what the City is all about. That these earmarks, pork barrel projects are a waste of our tax dollars. Alderman Stone, my alderman, is a critic, but not because he thinks that the city should be doing its job responding to our requests, but because he was elected to make the decision about whether or not my street or your street should be repaved first.
I wish that the Heartland had a video up of Alderman Moore from Saturday already. He talked about how citizens are discovering a lot about public decision making through their research. Apparently it is less costly and perhaps more effective to put up additional lighting on a street than to put in a security camera for safety sake. Thus a group of people proposed additional lighting on their block near a school. The principal was all for it. The residents were not. The residents didn’t want additional lighting to shine into their homes. I see their point, I have a street lamp right outside my home too. Annoying at times. But because the idea came from the people, THEY had to negotiate if lighting would happen or not. And if it happened to be on the ballot and it won, it would happen. When was the last time your alderman checked in with you before making a change?
Honestly when I heard about this experiment, I loved it immediately. I know this Saturday turn out might be low, but hey, we had only about 25% of Chicago turn out to vote in February! But it could be a first step in getting people to pay more attention to not politics, but the state of our neighborhoods, our neighbors and the economics of the things we kinda take for granted like street repaving and lighting.
Do you live in the 49th Ward? What are you going to vote for?
Would you want this to come to your ward or neighborhood?