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Participatory Budgeting Lacks Community Cohesion

Participatory budgeting is a great idea reminiscent of times when neighbors built their communities together.  On Chicago’s Southside, old timers can remember when the Town of Lake baseball field was built by friends and baseball enthusiasts on a track of unused land.  But that’s not what constitutes participatory budgeting.  Participatory budgeting sounds like a great 21st Century idea-tell the politicians what you want your tax dollars to do for you.  Unfortunately, it has led to a lack of representation and development due to microtrends.   As demographic inversion, the Big Daddy of the mass gentrification of American cities rolls in, participatory development is evolving into a empty promise.

Do you trust your neighbor?

Participatory budgeting and development is not a neighbor friendly endeavor-it’s a groupthink with small clusters of neighbors dominating the process.   According to Pew Research we don’t trust our neighbors especially in urban settings where participatory budgeting and development is budding. Rising economic segregation creates a struggle for longtime residents, minorities, in dealing with their new neighbors, White and upper-middle to upper class, moving back into the city.  Alan Ehrenhalt discusses these struggles including rising property taxes and rise of boutique business outpricing the economic needs of longtime residents. Trust is hard to create when the affordable and relatable amenities disappear.   A lack of participation and representation by residents has been a pitfall in the 22nd Ward of Chicago and other areas. How do the small clusters of well educated and resource rich neighbors represent the struggling longtime residents?  they don’t.  Microtrends in social and economic stratification are vastly different for each group.  The participatory process is undemocratic if there is not an equal voice for all residents at the table.

Employment and Business Development

There is not an argument with political leaders receiving budgets for their area needs but where the improvements occur is questionable.  Participatory Budgeting has been successful in few wards in Chicago, across Canada and throughout the third world but is it being misused?  According to UIC studies smaller improvements occur such as repairing parks, resurfacing streets and new lighting.  But does that draw economic development?  Not necessarily due to the level of small advocacy groups directing funds to their areas within a neighborhood. According to the Grassroots Collaborative employment for minorities continues to move to the suburbs with the urban exodus of manufacturing so repaved streets is not the economic path for revitalization and stability in a neighborhood.  Politicians attempting to create employment for the native minority residents of their city areas are met with protests.  From Charlotte, NC to Chicago, IL residents fight development that would directly employ residents where manufacturing is rebirthed.

Manufacturing creates a burgeoning middle-class sector of an area in turn creating long term stability.  Persistence theory has proven that people will consistently remain in middle-class enclaves.  The middle-class stabilizes neighborhoods, not always revitalizing, but the bills are paid and the yard is raked.  Their increased taxes pay for area improvements while micro trending new neighbors bring new resources.  One microtrend that is actually curing city residents is yoga classes.  Normally deemed as a “white, upper class exercise”, the working class labor of cities are finally joining classes and stretching their battered bodies from years of work in construction and increased factory belt paces. If participatory budgeting is concerned with residential equity, equality and economics then manufacturing must return for long term viability for all neighbors.

Future of the Hood

As urban-ism grows so too will diversification of cities and their residents.  Residential renewal will continue to be supported by massive development infrastructure opportunities.  Developers are more concerned with the newest tech hubs and start-ups centered in cities.  The “knowledge workers” are the next microtrend in development.

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