Participatory Budgeting in the United States: A Preliminary Analysis of Chicago's 49th Ward Experiment

New Political Science 36 (2):193-218 (2014)
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This paper presents a preliminary analysis of the first participatory budgeting experiment in the United States, in Chicago's 49th Ward. There are two avenues of inquiry: First, does participatory budgeting result in different budgetary priorities than standard practices? Second, do projects meet normative social justice outcomes? It is clear that allowing citizens to determine municipal budget projects results in very different outcomes than standard procedures. Importantly, citizens in the 49th Ward consistently choose projects that the research literature classifies as low priority. The results are mixed, however, when it comes to social justice outcomes. While there is no clear pattern in which projects are located only in affluent sections of the ward, there is evidence of geographic clustering. Select areas are awarded projects like community gardens, dog parks, and playgrounds, while others are limited to street resurfacing, sidewalk repairs, bike racks, and bike lanes. Based on our findings, we offer suggestions for future programmatic changes.
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