In 1989, government reformers in Porto Alegre, Brazil had a brilliant idea to combat the city’s rampant inequality and uneven representation of the city’s poor. They introduced the world’s first full implementation of participatory budgeting, a democratic way to allocate public funds. Under participatory budgeting, community members develop and propose civic projects, which are then funded with taxpayer money based on public vote.
Since then, the participatory budgeting movement has spread far and wide, with adoption in over 1,500 cities across the globe. Four years ago, New York City launched its own program, now the largest in the U.S. This April, over $25 million in public money was allocated to locally-developed projects across 24 city districts, selected by popular vote. This year’s expansion more than doubles the number of participating districts, and represents a nearly 80% increase in funding allocated for participatory budgeting from the previous fiscal year.
Equal representation is a core goal of participatory budgeting, and New York’s City Council chose Textizen to inform and engage residents in preparation for the voting in April. The Council’s goal was to not only drive greater participation in this year’s voting, but also to stay in touch with residents over the long term and make this year’s process more representative than the last.