Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), the first West Side alderman to implement participatory budgeting in his ward, isn’t doing it this year.
Every year, each alderman gets $1.23 million in so-called aldermanic menu money, which they can spend on whatever ward infrastructure projects they want. Ald. Joe Moore (49th) was the first alderman to invite his constituents to suggest ideas and vote on how they want the money to be spent. Since then, several aldermen have followed his example, including Taliaferro.
Taliaferro said that he isn’t giving up on participatory budgeting. It’s just that this year the City of Chicago moved up the deadline for submitting projects and Taliaferro said he didn’t think he would be able to go through the process in such a limited time. He will do participatory budgeting again in 2018, and use 2017 to catch up on some of the projects that were approved last year but haven’t been completed yet.
During his campaign in 2015, Taliaferro pledged to implement participatory budgeting in his ward. When he became alderman, however, he discovered that there were more pressing infrastructure issues that needed to be addressed immediately. Last year, the alderman asked residents how they wanted to spend $700,000 of menu money.
Only 80 people voted on the slate of 10 projects that were picked as finalists last March. Ultimately, six of those projects got clearance. They include the installation of new exercise equipment at Amudsen Park, a mural on the Chicago side of the Austin Boulevard Green Line/Metra underpass, three community gardens, two pedestrian refuge islands on North Avenue, a mural on the railroad viaduct near the intersection of Central and Lake, and neighborhood street poll banners.
At the time when those projects were voted on, Taliaferro — who expressed disappointment at the low turnout — said that, next time around, he would team up with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute to help with organization and marketing.
Taliaferro revealed that he wouldn’t implement participatory budgeting this year at a March 8 City Council hearing. In a follow-up interview, the alderman said that scheduling was the main factor in his decision.
“Because of the changes in timing in which the city is requesting menu money and infrastructure repair work, we are not able to do it this year,” Taliaferro said, adding that this year the city requires projects to be submitted by March. Last year, the deadline was in June. Next year, he said, he’ll have more time to make the new deadline.
Taliaferro said that several of last year’s projects have already been completed, including the Austin Boulevard mural. The city is in the process of adding North Avenue pedestrian islands and building a community garden for veterans. He said he would use this year’s menu money to fund some of the other uncompleted projects, though, as of March 14, he hadn’t decided which ones.
During the March 8 hearing, Taliaferro said that he strongly believed in the participatory budgeting process, thanks in no small part of what he heard while campaigning.
“In every [single debate], [this] question was asked: If elected, would you bring participatory budgeting to the 29th ward?” he said. “So I knew it was very important.”
After he was elected, Taliaferro said that he sat in on Moore’s participatory budgeting committees, which only reaffirmed his faith.
“In seeing how important it was to his constituents in the 49th ward, I knew we can do something grand [in the 29th ward] over time,” he said.
Taliaferro readily admitted that putting participatory budgeting into place was more difficult than he expected.
“It was an extremely difficult process starting it, because I took on the process while I was busy learning how to be alderman,” he said. “It was very overwhelming to try to balance the needs of the community and [issues related to development and infrastructure].”
Still, the alderman said he was proud of the projects that have panned out, singling out the Austin Boulevard mural and the community garden in particular.
“The [veteran garden] renderings are fantastic,” he said. “It’s something that every veteran that served in our military would be proud to visit. The city has been incredible working with my office on implementing the project.”
Taliaferro assured those in attendance at the March 8 hearing that he is still committed to the participatory budging process and he thanked Ald. Moore for “encouraging me to do it.”
“This is something I will keep doing for as long as I’m in office,” Taliaferro said.