youth Participatory Budgeting in Boston

On Friday, I had the opportunity to observe about 50 Boston young people at work on the city’s youth Participatory Budgeting initiative. I will write the whole story for GOOD Magazine, so this is just a teaser. In essence, volunteer young people (ages 12-25) have brainstormed more than 400 projects that the city could support out of its capital budget. I watched committees of youth come together to study, refine, and screen these proposals. In June, as many youth as possible will be recruited to vote for their favorite proposals at meetings across the city. The city will then allocate $1 million of its capital budget to fund the top-scoring projects.

This is an example of Participatory Budgeting, a process that began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has since spread to 1,500 locations in many countries, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project. It bears some resemblance to other processes, including the New England town meetings that began in the 1600s and still survive in some towns in our region, not to mention the 265,000 village councils of India and other participatory government mechanisms around the world. It is nevertheless an innovation. The three-step process (brainstorming, project-development, voting); the application to big cities; and the allocation of capital budgets are all distinctive features of Participatory Budgeting. Boston’s process is not the first to restrict the franchise to young residents (regardless of US citizenship status, by the way), but that remains unusual.

I will have more to say about the details as the process unfolds. See also: “the rise of urban citizenship“; “participatory budgeting in Recife, Brazil wins the Reinhard Mohn Prize“; “participatory budgeting in the US“; and my chapter entitled “’Social Accountability’ as Public Work.”