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Ward Politics Tue Oct 09 2012

49th Ward residents pitch ideas for capital improvements

If you had an extra $1 million that had to be used to improve your neighborhood, what would you do with the money?

A group of about 30 residents of Chicago's 49th Ward got to answer that very question Monday evening. The group packed into a room in the fieldhouse at Loyola Park for the first of seven "neighborhood assemblies" to discuss the first step of the 2012-2013 participatory budgeting process.

Participatory budgeting, said 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore, is a process by which residentsparticipatory49_02.jpg decide how he should spend $1 million in discretionary funds awarded to each alderman (known as "menu money") for infrastructure improvements in their ward. The 49th Ward, Moore said, was the first place in the United States to implement such a process when it started in 2009.

"The 49th Ward has been on the cutting edge," Moore told the crowd. "Every person has an equal voice. It's not just me making the decisions about how that money's spent."

Deciding how the menu money will be spent is a four-step process. Moore said the first step is the neighborhood assemblies, of which there will be seven including Monday's, where residents can throw out ideas for capital improvements. After the neighborhood assemblies, residents who signed up to be community representatives will meet several times between November and March to decide the final list of projects that ward residents can vote on. The third step, voting on which projects will receive menu money, will take place in late April or May, Moore said.

The final step, Moore said, is implementation, which is an ongoing process.

For as many residents as there were at Monday's meeting, there were even more ideas for how to spend this year's menu money.

Bryce Sabin, who said he's lived in the ward for 10 years, said he hopes some of the money is used to turn a vacant lot at Albion and the lakefront into a park. The lot, Sabin said, has been vacant for about five years.

While street and sidewalk repairs were a common theme Monday evening, some residents had less-orthodox ideas, including one who hoped some of the money is spent on bike racks designed by David Byrne, a founding member of the band Talking Heads.

"He designs bike racks and they are so cool," said Lori Mooney, who said she's lived in the 49th for about seven years.

Security was another common theme. One resident said the north end of the Morse Red participatory49_01.jpgLine station could use more security cameras to prevent people from improperly using the train station.

"It's often an outhouse," resident Mike Sanders said.

Moore said the participatory budgeting process, though it began in the 49th Ward, has spread to other areas of the city. This year, he said, the 5th, 45th and 46th wards are also going through the process to decide how to spend their menu money. Ald. James Cappelman, 46th Ward, praised Moore for bringing the process to Chicago in a letter to his constituents.

"This process has been a huge success in Joe Moore's 49th Ward where it was first tried three years ago and Ald. Cappleman is excited to bring this program to our ward," the letter said.

Residents at Monday's meeting had similar praise for the process.

"This is the way all government money should be spent -- by consensus," Mooney said.

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