The 35th Ward, which covers roughly a third of Logan Square, began its 2018 participatory budgeting cycle on Tuesday, May 23, with a meeting at Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa’s political office (2959 N. Milwaukee Ave.) Ramirez-Rosa invited residents to form a leadership committee that will spearhead the budgeting effort, in which for the third year since he took office $1 million of the ward’s discretionary funds will be set aside for community projects suggested and voted on by ward residents.
Ramirez-Rosa instituted the program in the 35th Ward the first year after his 2015 election. The first voting cycle early last year saw 649 ward residents cast ballots, with that number decreasing to 485 for the 2017 cycle in October. Ramirez-Rosa’s chief of staff Monica Trevino focused Tuesday on improving voter turnout, promising support and signage from the ward office for residents who want to get involved.
“I’m going to get on the phone with people who participated in our previous cycles, and if they’re too busy, I’ll ask them to recommend someone else,” Trevino said.
Anyone who is a ward resident can join the leadership committee, which gathers ideas from community assemblies that will be held over the summer and then decides which will go on the ballot. Projects approved for 2017 include alley and curb resurfacing throughout the ward, the installation of new greenways and street signage and extensive streetlight repairs and replacements in Hermosa. Hermosa will have a unique opportunity this year, as all three wards that comprise the neighborhood — the 31st, 35th, and 36th — are participating in the program and will hold a collaborative Spanish-language assembly on June 15 to solicit ideas from residents.
Not every idea floated can be turned into reality. Ramirez-Rosa explained that eligible projects are limited to those that can be paid for with “menu money,” a $1.32 million allotment given to each ward yearly for capital (newly built) infrastructure projects.
“There’s definitely a learning curve for the bureaucracy and red tape of how to work with menu money,” the alderman said at Tuesday’s meeting. “The leadership in each neighborhood decides what makes the most sense.”
Participatory budgeting is a civic exercise that was originally developed in Brazil in the 1980s. The first Chicago alderman to implement it was Joe Moore of the 49th Ward, which covers portions of Rogers Park, Edgewater and West Ridge. In 2012, the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois, Chicago teamed up with the Participatory Budgeting Project, a nonprofit that promotes the process across both the U.S. and Canada, to form the PB Chicago initiative promoting its use throughout the city. Now, nine aldermen including Ramirez-Rosa run the cycle each year.
Ramirez-Rosa’s office has yet to set a date for the Logan Square-Avondale Community Assembly, which will be held at NEIU’s El Centro campus, but the next leadership committee meeting will be Tuesday, June 13 at 6:30 p.m. The organizers ask for a time commitment of roughly 10 hours per month, including attendance at the monthly committee meetings. To get involved, contact Monica Trevino at email@example.com.