About 40 Evanston residents and community members, in a lively and thoughtful exchange of ideas Tuesday night, mulled over ways to allocate the city’s $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
The session, the first of seven assemblies, took place in a packed room at the Robert Crown Community Center. Some of the ideas brought forward during the meeting included calls for investing in mental health and homeless shelters, and expanding climate initiatives by adding trees and solar panels.
The participatory budget, a first for Evanston, represents a unique opportunity for residents to get involved in the democratic process. Unlike city council elections, the participatory budget has a lower threshold, with people as young as 14 being able to vote.
“The most important thing is the fact it is all citizen-run,” Matt Easterday, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy said. Easterday is the technical assistant at PB Evanston, a group from the university serving as the city’s consultant.
After previously being in the rulebook stage, the participatory budget is now in an “idea collection” phase, with a tentative seven sessions set to happen between now and February, before budget delegates draw up proposals.
Participatory budget, which first emerged in the late 1980s in Brazil and has since been implemented across the U.S., represents an intimate mode of civic engagement.
“Coming up with an idea and getting people behind it,” is at the core of democracy, Jeffrey Korman, the meeting’s organizer, and a member of PB Evanston’s leadership committee said.
Tuesday’s meeting saw people show up in numbers, but outreach remains a challenge. He added, “How do we get the word out?”
PB Evanston, city staff, and members from the community are expected to consider up to 14 proposals, with voting slated for summer 2023.
The next participatory budget idea collection meeting is set for Dec. 10.
Full disclosure: The RoundTable’s Jean Cunningham, who is an award-winning freelance writer and does the Art of Making Art column for us, is a volunteer leader in this process.