The Year of Implementation
Jan 22 2008
Remember all the planning meetings we went to where we were told our ideas would shape the future of the city? When do we get to decide the budget priorities that make our ideas a reality?
There are now more than two years between us and the Federal Flood. For better and for worse, the era of planning meetings and of official planning processes is over.
It is time to focus on implementation — participatory implementation — of as many of the good ideas we generated as we have time and resources to realize.
The key word in the previous sentence is participatory. Implementation in one form or another is going to happen. A project here, a project there; a condo here, a strip mall there. Less certain — and the initial signs are not good — is how many of the community-driven aspects of the plans we collectively devised will ever see the light of day.
Developers and their friends continue raiding the Go-Zone money and tax credits of all kinds for projects that have no relation to the plans we citizens developed. The money these developers are using is ostensibly ours — but we have no say in which projects we are funding with our tax dollars.
Why not convert the planning districts used to develop the UNOP plan into ongoing democratic forums where each district would provide direct community input on budgeting and implementation priorities for that district?
While this might sound crazy, communities from Canada to Spain to Brazil are doing exactly this — taking defined areas of the city or parish budget and allowing neighborhoods to set budgets and project priorities for their areas. It is commonly referred to as participatory budgeting
What these communities are discovering is that the people in the neighborhoods understand better than city council what projects deserve to be funded. Beyond this, they are discovering that the act of participation and the sense of community it engenders lead to increased levels of happiness and well-being as reported by people in the communities.
Direct community participation in the budgeting process, in the establishing of priorities, and in the oversight of work completed is the only way to ensure that the implementation phase of the recovery doesn’t return us all to the days of developers gaming City Hall to get their projects approved and to get a healthy public subsidy for their bottom line.
Our current crop of Council members appear earnest in their desire to bring transparency to issues of land-use in the city. Unfortunately, they are new to the system and are no match for our seasoned developers and their $500 an hour attorneys.
The key is to replace the single voice of a district council person with thousands of voices of engaged, informed citizens.
Filed under: Editorials