Voting for this cycle of the 29th Ward’s participatory budgeting has ended, and the results are in: Sixty percent of the $1 million will go to street repairs and resurfacing.
The rest of the projects to be funded – listed here in order of popularity – are: street safety upgrades, community gardens, a fitness course at the Austin Town Hall, bike lanes, a mural in Columbus Park and public art at Sayre Language Academy.
Initially, the plan was to only implement the top five ballot projects. But because the more than 400 people who voted chose to designate 60% of the money on street repairs and resurfacing (they could have allocated more), there’s enough funding left over to fund a sixth project, said Norma Hernandez, a community development planner for UIC’s Great Cities Institute, which administers Chicago’s PB program.
Byron Watson, 29th Ward budget director, said the specific locations for street repair and resurfacing haven’t been determined yet.
Which streets get repaired or resurfaced will be determined by a combination of priority assessment by the city and a follow-up assessment by members of the alderman’s office, he said, Watson said.
The total for the six other projects is estimated at $945,000. The remaining $55,000 provides some wiggle room since the projects’ costs are estimates, Hernandez said.
Tina Augustus, who leads the team representing the 29th Ward’s southern third, which runs from Lake Street to Roosevelt Road, said she’s excited and optimistic.
Four of the winning projects affect her part of the ward. “We got everything we asked for,” she said.
Augustus worked closely with Maria Sorrell, who heads up the central section, which runs from North Avenue to Lake Street, on the community gardens and street safety upgrades. Those projects cover both the south and central parts of the 29th Ward.
Getting out the vote was a big concern this year, with the pandemic making it hard to have the face-to-face outreach like with past participatory budgeting cycles. Ald. Taliaferro has done participatory budgeting since 2017.
Augustus leveraged her own extensive network, including the Austin Adams Block Club, where she’s president; the South Austin Neighborhood Association; and her company Elevate Services. She also gave paper ballots to a number of neighborhood residents.
Tom Drebenstedt, who leads the north team, which runs from Roscoe Street to North Avenue, said his area benefitted from already having a strong online infrastructure of community Facebook pages and other organizations. It enabled them to do their outreach exclusively online.
He also acknowledged there are some limitations to a digital-only approach. “If people are not engaged online, how do they get engaged? So, that’s an ongoing discussion,” he said.
Reaching the ward’s seniors online was not much of an option, Sorrell said. She has multiple senior buildings in her part of the ward, where paper ballots were dropped off.
Sorrell and Hernandez set up a table at the Austin Town Hall farmers market a couple of times in the fall, Sorrell said. She also dropped off ballots and posters at the town hall and at both the Austin and North Austin branches of the Chicago Public Library.
Paper ballots made up 160 of 435 total votes cast across the ward, Hernandez said.
Drebenstedt said keeping the paper ballots was important because while a lot of people work almost exclusively digitally, some still do everything on paper.
“I think we still need to work in both of those worlds,” he said.
There’s still a lot of work to do at the ward level to make the winning projects happen.
Watson said his responsibilities now largely involve getting authorizations for all the projects and the funds behind them.
He said it can be difficult to pinpoint when a project will be completed because the city agencies don’t always notify him.
Once a request for a street repair has been authorized and sent to the Chicago Department of Transportation, for instance, “CDOT just shows up and does it for the most part,” he said.
Watson said he likes participatory budgeting because “you’re able to engage your residents and try to build out a network of like-minded civic people to build upon, like we say, democracy.”