Ald. Chris Taliaferro during a community meeting last year. | File

Residents of the 29th Ward who attended a March 31 meeting, organized by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), picked 10 projects they would like to see funded out of what is called aldermanic menu money. Every year, each alderman is allotted $1.23 million of this menu money to spend on whatever ward infrastructure projects they want.

North Side Ald. Joe Moore (49th) was the first alderman to give residents a say in how the money is spent, launching the participatory budgeting process. Since then, several other aldermen adopted the practice. Taliaferro said that he wanted to follow suit during his first year in office.

During the meeting, the alderman presented 18 possible projects, and invited residents who attended to vote for ten projects they liked the most.

The installation of exercise equipment at Amundsen Park, a gateway community sign in South Austin and murals along the Green Line/Union Pacific West Line embankment earned the highest number of votes. Other projects in the top ten include the installation of dog parks in ward parks, community gardens, a median in the middle of North Avenue, and historical and neighborhood banners attached to light poles throughout the ward.

“I think it’s an excellent idea for the community to have an impact [on] what they’d like to see in the ward,” Taliaferro said. “That’s why I want to do it.”

Now that the list has been narrowed down to ten, ward residents will be able to join committees that would investigate how much each project would cost. All ward residents — including youth who are normally too young to vote — will be able to weigh in on which projects they want implemented.

Taliaferro said he had hoped to implement a participatory budget during his first year in office; however, because the ward was facing pressing infrastructure issues, including streets and sidewalks that needed to be repaired and potholes that needed filling, there wasn’t any money left for discretionary projects. This year, he said, there is still a backlog of projects, but there would possibly be around $600,000 to $700,000 for participatory budgeting.

Jerrod Williams chairs the beautification committee within the South Austin Neighborhood Association, the organization that proposed installing two large welcome signs — one on a major thoroughfare and another somewhere along the Austin/Oak Park border. The project earned the second-highest number of votes among the meeting’s roughly 40 attendees.

The signs would be similar to the large sidewalk signs that welcome visitors to Old Town or the arch-like sign over 26th Street in Little Village.

“By making it a neighborhood sign, what we hope is to instill a sense of civic pride and identity,” Williams said. “People don’t disrespect Lakeview and [communities] like that, because they have an identity.”

Taliaferro said one of his choice projects was the mural, which earned the fourth-highest votes.

“If you look at the underpass, there’s a mural on the Oak Park side,” said Taliaferro.  “I’m just going to hold up a sign saying ‘vote for this one.'”

Judith Alexander, of the North Avenue Neighbors Association, said that she supported the North Avenue median extension project.

“I am going to suggest involving Active Transportation Alliance in picking spots [for crosswalks],” she said. “I agree that it’s sorely needed. There are [currently] no crosswalks, so I think it’s a terrific idea.”

With the ten projects chosen, the next step is to analyze the costs. On April 14, Taliaferro will host a meeting in his ward office to put together committees to research each project. The meeting will start at 6:00 p.m., and any 29th Ward resident who is willing to commit the necessary time is welcome to participate.

Taliaferro emphasized that, once the costs are worked out, all 29th Ward residents will have a chance to vote on which projects will actually go forward. The alderman said that he wanted to give community teens an opportunity to get involved in the process.

“We’re going to open the voting up to 16- and 17-year-olds,” he said. We’re going to give them a feel for the democratic process.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly noted that Taliaferro got the inspiration for participatory budgeting overseas. This article has since been updated.

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...