Grand Rapids launches participatory budgeting

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The city of Grand Rapids is in its first phase of introducing community-centered participatory budgeting.

The Participatory Budgeting Grand Rapids (PBGR) initiative was designed to remove barriers and ensure diverse groups and marginalized voices have a direct, equitable impact on public spending projects.

The city allocated $2 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding from the 2021 city budget to be used for community proposed projects across all three wards. Ward 1 will receive $600,000; Ward 2, $400,000; and Ward 3, $1,000,000. Fund distribution was voted on by the Grand Rapids City Commission in part due to the distribution of demographic and economic factors in each ward.

A resident-led steering committee is overseeing the project and will lead equitable grassroots organizing to rally further community participation.

In 2021, participatory budget funding is eligible for use on a variety of categories, including infrastructure investments related to water, wastewater and broadband; economic and health impacts of COVID-19 with relation to households, small businesses and nonprofits; investments in housing and re-housing; and addressing educational disparities.

The first phase of the project runs through January, focusing on outreach, education and ideation for the initiative.

The city also is seeking volunteers for PBGR who will help community members develop ideas to get on the ballot.

Further steps include designing the participatory budgeting process, rules and engagement plan through a community-led steering committee. Once the engagement plan is created and resident participation is underway, residents will share and discuss ideas for projects through various public engagement meetings and online tools. Volunteer “budget delegates” will develop ideas into feasible proposals spanning from February to March, which will then be taken to a resident vote and selection in April. Projects that win the vote then will receive funding and be submitted to the city commission for adoption spanning from May to June.

The PBGR initiative is a subset of the Participatory Budgeting Project, a nonprofit encouraging democratic, community-led spending, primarily in the U.S. and Canada, with the intent of strengthening democracy, building stronger communities and ensuring public budgets are equitable and effective.

The first participatory budgeting project was launched in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, as an anti-poverty measure to reduce child mortality. Since its debut, the initiative has been implemented in 7,000 cities globally, with participatory budgeting spanning from schools and housing authorities to states, counties and cities.

Those interested in becoming a PBGR volunteer can email pb@grcity.us
More information on the PBGR initiative is at pbgr.org.

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