Participatory Budgeting moves forward in Greensboro

Greensboro is the first city in the South to implement the Participatory Budgeting Project.

PBP is a nonprofit organization that gives residents the power to decide how to spend public money. The first participatory budgeting process took place in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989. Now over 3,000 cities around the world have participatory budgeting.

The Greensboro organization collected votes for project ideas. All five districts were involved in the process, with residents filling out papers with their ideas from art murals to bike lanes. This was outreach project assistant Erica Lindenberg’s favorite part.

Lindenberg loves to meet new people, such as when she visited American Friend’s Service Committee’s high school youth group in December to collect project ideas and recruit volunteer budget delegates.

The role of the budget delegate is to turn Greensboro’s community ideas into project proposals for the final ballot. The process for delegates starts with orientation in December and they meet throughout the year until the voting process begins.

Community ideas were sorted into five categories to break down the workload. The categories were arts and culture, safety and environment, parks and recreation, streets and sidewalks, and special projects.

Philip Marsh was both on the arts and culture as well as streets and sidewalks committee.

“The process has been long, cumbersome, and rewarding; due to the fact that there isn’t really an art system in place to develop creative ideas for Greensboro,” said Marsh. “As a long admirer of creative scenes in other forward thinking cities both far, like Miami, and near, like Winston-Salem, I have always had an interest in assisting my city in furthering its creative side.”

Also in the arts and culture committee was Jose Sandoval. He found the most difficult part of the process to be turning general ideas into a specific, visualized project.

“I was part of the 2015 City Academy and was informed at one of our sessions,” said Sandoval. “I also heard of it through the International Advisory Committee. I decided to be involved because I thought it was so cool that the people would be able to decide where and how to spend the funds available to each district and wanted to see what the process consisted of.”

Amber Graning worked as a volunteer budget delegate with parks and recreation. Her committee had to get over 150 ideas down around 10 to present to the community.

“I feel like our government always asks for our ideas so I wanted to know if these ideas were going to be used,” said Graning. “I want to see positive change in Greensboro and people having pride in living in this city. This is a good way for me to be an example of ‘if you want this city to be something, make it.’” Participatory Budgeting’s first voting expo was on March 18 in the Peace United Church of Christ. The expo was special in particular for the international community. All who visited had interpreters and translation resources in Spanish, French, Arabic, and Vietnamese.

Each district had its own table with projects and their descriptions. The projects included security cameras, traffic lanes, murals, bike lanes, pedestrian crosswalks, bus shelters, fireplaces in libraries, weatherproof stone game tables for parks, historical and cultural welcome signage, bridge repairs, Wi-Fi hotspots, skate parks, and so much more.

The Greensboro International Advisory Committee partnered with Participatory Budgeting at the expo to help immigrants and refugees have a voice in their community.

Chair of the International Advisory Committee, Adamou Mohamed, had great interest on how Participatory Budgeting could impact and benefit the international community.

“We need to make sure the international voice is also heard,” he said.

As a citizen of District 5, Mohamed said he’d like the soccer field project to get votes. He saw the project as a way to get more people in the community to come out and make friends with each other.

Vice-chair of the International Advisory Committee, Irving Jimenez, said that Greensboro has a long history with immigrants and refugees, making an international expo all the more important.

He found comparing district project’s focuses to be fascinating, with District 5’s focus being more on history and District 1 more on parks and bike lanes.

Marcos Gensollen, having lived in Greensboro for nine months, visited the expo with interest in bike lanes in District 2.

Project gatherer and facilitator, Madeline Reed, is passionate about the opportunities Participatory Budgeting gives people.

“I am proud to be a part of this initial ‘toe in the water’ of Participatory Budgeting,’ said Reed. “It has been eye opening for me as to exactly how a city budget works, how projects are approved and implemented, and just how energized the people of Greensboro can become given their direct opportunity to participate in how their city funds are spent.

“I am firmly in favor of Participatory Budgeting as an excellent way to keep the expenditure of tax dollars a democratic process…one that is open to and involves an informed citizenry. Count me in! I want to work on this again next year and see more and continued progress in Greensboro!” !

WANNA vote?

Want to vote to change your community? Here are the expo’s dates, times, and places. District 1 Expo: Thursday, March 31, 6-8pm. Hayes-Taylor YMCA, 2630 E. Florida St.; District 2 Expo: Tuesday, March 29, 6-8pm. Mc Girt Horton Library, 2501 Phillips Ave.; District 3 Expo: Wednesday, March 30, 6-8pm. Central Library, 219 N. Church St.; District 4 Expo: Monday, March 28, 6-8pm. Benjamin Branch Library, 1530 Benjamin Pkwy.; District 5 Expo: Friday, April 1, 6-8pm. Griffin Recreation Center, 5301 Hilltop Rd.