Participatory Budget

Ward 1 Residents to Vote on Participatory Budget

Hamilton's Ward 1 residents have an opportunity to choose among 80 projects up for voting in the ward's $1.5 million participatory budget.

By Saira Peesker
Published October 11, 2013

Hamilton's Ward 1 residents are facing a decision between 80 projects up for voting in the ward's $1.5 million participatory budget.

Sifting through so many park, crosswalk and cycling projects may certainly seem time intensive - but after weighing more than 500 ideas submitted, Councillor Brian McHattie says getting through 80 should be a breeze.

"People are saying, 'there's no way I'm looking through 80 projects to decide what my top five are,'" he told RTH last week. "I responded a bit tongue in cheek, that I looked through 500 projects so I don't feel too bad for you."

As of Thursday, more than 1,200 people had voted. Online voting continues until Oct. 21 at forward1.ca.

All proposed projects were brought forward by members of the ward, and include: a scramble intersection at Sterling Street and Forsyth Avenue, near the eastern entrance to McMaster University; a performance space at Victoria Park; a traffic-calming piazza on Locke Street and better intersections for pedestrians where Dundurn Street crosses King Street and Main Street; plus 76 other diverse suggestions.

"There were a lot on pedestrian safety," said McHattie. "That was a real highlight. Also a lot of on park improvements. In particular, the was some interest in skateboarding and making improvements to existing playgrounds and splash pads.

"(This process) acts as a survey and poll of what people are thinking about. It really gives you a sense for where people's heads are at."

The process in Ward 1 is largely held online and somewhat more streamlined than in Ward 2, which relies on in-person democracy at every step to elect neighbourhood councils, choose projects and vote.

In Ward 1, residents submit ideas, which are grouped together as appropriate by the councillor and an appointed committee, then rated by residents in an online vote. The projects don't come with budget lines attached, so a big part of the advisory committee's work is to decide how much to allocate each project.

"We wanted to make it as simple as possible," McHattie said, admitting that despite those efforts, it's still quite of bit of work to take the process from concept to actualization of the projects.

"The timelines have been awkward. By late October, or early November, we have our a list of approved projects, while in reality, the City capital budget is well organized by May or June."

To remedy this, next year's process will start not long after this year's ends, to have it completed in tandem with the budget cycle.

"We're going to start the process in January and try to wrap it up in June," he said. "We're battling against time."

Saira Peesker is an ace reporter who covers politics, business and current events. Her work has appeared on YourHamiltonBiz, OpenFile and CTVNews.ca, among others. When not snooping for scoops, she skates in counter-clockwise circles with Toronto Roller Derby's all-star team, CN Power. You can follow her on Twitter @SairaPeesker.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 11, 2013 at 10:21:17

I voted on the first day. Some were surprisingly poorly documented - things just saying "work on such-and-such plan" with no details on what the plan refers to.

There were some entries in there that I feel violated the rules about capital-cost-only projects. The food programs were the big one - multiple student food programs appeared on the list. Also, flower beds seem low-capital/high maintenance.

It's worth noting to readers: if you have a pet project on there that you want to see people vote for, you're going to have to go out and stump for it, because others are doing that. I received an email from the West Hamilton Youth Soccer league asking parents to sign on and vote for astroturf at Westdale Secondary, and to have their kids sign on and do the same. WHYS represents hundreds of parents so this will have an impact for them. So if there's a project you want supported, get out there and advocate for it.

I voted King/Dundurn crossings, Churchill park walkways and playground, and bikes on Cannon St and York Blvd. I honestly don't think the York Boulevard bike lanes will ever see a lot of usage but something needs to be done to get the super-fast live-traffic spaced away from the sidewalks and bike lanes are more useful than grassy boulevards.

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2013 at 01:23:47 in reply to Comment 93140

The York Boulevard bike lanes will have HUGE usage. They'll provide a vital connection between the bidirectional lanes on Cannon and both the lanes down Dundurn, over King and into Westdale and beyond, and also to Plains road, linking cyclists safely all the way into Burlington. I live right by that road, and the third lane there is always used as a high-speed, aggressive passing lane. Completely useless, and I'll be glad to see it go.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:32:48 in reply to Comment 93319

Taking the York lanes to Westdale via Dundurn would be a pretty huge detour - I'd probably just try to find a way to get to Napier (why is Bay 1-way again?).

I imagine their primary use will be going to Plains. My point is that, unless these are heavily separated/protected lanes, only the bravest of cyclists would venture onto York Boulevard. The difference between Cannon's lanes and York's lanes is that Cannon will be bi-directional and York will not. The bi-directional lanes at Cannon will represent enough width and enough investment (new traffic signals needed) that it will be reasonable to implement concrete protection. With York, city staff will be far more tempted to just give us a bunch of painted lines. I'm not biking on York with only painted lines.

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2013 at 12:30:56 in reply to Comment 93335

From what I understand, the Plains lanes will result in the removal of an entire vehicle lane in each direction. The resulting bike lane will be at least 5 feet wide with a 3 foot buffer. And for those riding from Cannon, you just keep on going straight through on York to Dundurn, keeping cyclists in safe, comfortable cycling facilities the entire way (I'm pushing staff to ensure that there is a bike box installed at York and Dundurn as well to ensure safe left turns for cyclists at that key intersection as well). I predict they'll be very well used, and will really connect people living on either side of the 403 much more effectively. Napier is a nice street, but with stop signs at every intersection, I see the Cannon-York-Dundurn-King corridor being quicker and more direct in the long run.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted October 12, 2013 at 20:37:14

I voted too but sad to see my own submissions were not included. Feedback on why they were not included would have been a big help - especially when I see projects listed that appear to go against the guidelines.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 12, 2013 at 22:01:12 in reply to Comment 93182

Well, they had 500 submissions, feedback would be a lot to ask for. But yes, even a one-liner of "there's already a plan for that" or "we're rolling that into option X" or "that breaks the rules" or "I'm vetoing this because I hate it and I'm the councilman, I get to do that" would've been nice. Mine was kinda-sorta-slightly encompassed by the "King/Dundurn/Main" improvements, so I'm hoping that the ramp will be included in that project if it wins.

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By Mark-AlanWhittle (registered) - website | Posted October 14, 2013 at 19:27:07

This is ward-heeling politics at it's best, pork-barreling. Every taxpayers pays on their property taxes to fund this pot of money, then a chosen few decide how to spend millions. Why not just lower taxes, that way everyone get a benefit.

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By Dm (anonymous) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 14:34:32 in reply to Comment 93252

Pretty much as democratic as it gets. Even if they seem like pet projects, it is the citizens giving direction. This is a great way to get citizens involved and have a say beyond electing councillors.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 13:13:17 in reply to Comment 93252

Blame council. Instead of lowering lower city taxes, this reinvestment "fund" was established. Either participate or let others decide.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 15, 2013 at 09:36:23 in reply to Comment 93252

What? This is direct democracy. Call for submissions is open to anybody in the Ward. The vote is open to anybody in the ward. You can argue that it's pandering and populist, but not that it's a "chosen few". It's a democratic process being run by our elected democratic representative.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 14:33:55

"(This process) acts as a survey and poll of what people are thinking about. It really gives you a sense for where people's heads are at."

The process in Ward 1 is largely held online and somewhat more streamlined than in Ward 2, which relies on in-person democracy at every step to elect neighbourhood councils, choose projects and vote.

As a big-time supporter of the Ward 2 process, I have to quibble and note these quotes illustrate perfectly why Councillor McHattie's "PB" is just straight-up budget consultation, not participatory budgeting.

The whole point of PB is for it to be bottom-up, citizen led participation (discussed among citizens in assemblies), not Councillor-led rubber-stamping of spending ideas. This is a democracy & councillors should be doing this consultation anyway, so I see this more as marketing by the councillor, not deep citizen engagement.

And despite having to digest more of M.A.W.'s banal anti-tax trolling, he's right about the "chosen few." McHattie and his appointees have owned this process from Day One, and it's pretty much PB in name only.

Comment edited by Borrelli on 2013-10-15 14:34:54

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By wat (anonymous) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 14:54:15 in reply to Comment 93303

Ummm, it's as participatory as it gets. Anyone in ward 1 could submit an idea and anyone in ward 1 can vote on whatever ideas they like. And they didn't group a bunch of preferred projects in a package that most people would just pick instead of going item by item. Seems pretty democratic to me.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 16:27:17

Ummm, it's as participatory as it gets.

I think you need to kickstart your imagination then, because that's demonstrably untrue, and sort of silly because there are tons of ways it can "get" more participatory.

For example, "participation" in McHattie's model is strictly limited to proposals and voting. So it's missing a key component of PB: deliberation.

It would be more participatory if there was city-organized community discussion or conversations on community needs, and the kinds of projects that might address these needs. But beyond discussions among Councillor McHattie's handpicked group, this did not happen.

But most glaring, there is no participatory budgeting in this process. Y'know, the hard weighing pros/cons, deliberating and compromising that characterizes the budgeting you might with a small group or your family. The unfairly-maligned compromise table that Ward 2 assembles participated in actually required residents to discuss the costs and potential impacts of various projects, and encouraged them to find a workable consensus that achieves the most results with a limited amount of money. That's budgeting.

So you're right, in Ward 1 you don't have a group of preferred projects discussed and voted on by residents; instead you have a list of projects from residents, filtered by a group handpicked by the Councillor, and then voted on by residents.

That's sorta participatory, but so is electing representatives every 4 years. Neither is enough participation to live up to the PB model first popularized in Porto Alegre and then spread around the world.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 17:34:55 in reply to Comment 93308

'Handpicked' is unnecessarily pejorative. All citizens of ward 1 were given the opportunity to put their names forward for a place on the committee. There are clearly ways the ward 1 process could be made more participatory, but there's no need to paint it as less participatory than it actually was in order to make your point.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted October 17, 2013 at 12:30:21 in reply to Comment 93310

Not trying to be unnecessarily pejorative, MLP, but fair is fair, and Ward 1's process was less participatory. Here are three fundamental differences:

1) Number of public meetings (2 in Ward 1, compared to 9 meetings of the Councillor-appointed group, whereas in Ward 2 there were dozens of public meetings);

2) 300 projects were filtered by the councillor and his selected group (not residents) into a shortlist of 80 projects for public consumption, and;

3) Though I can't confirm because voting is closed, I was informed that Ward 1 residents voted on selected projects without costs attached, thereby cutting out the entire budgeting part of the exercise. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Ultimately, people are entitled to their opinion on how well the various processes worked, but I am sensitive about using the term "participatory budgeting" as a proxy for "community consultation." I don't care for unnecessary spin, even if it comes from a good, progressive Councillor (and his residents).

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 17, 2013 at 17:53:35 in reply to Comment 93370

Members of the PBAC (residents who put their names forward) did attend public meetings of neighbourhood and volunteer organizations, and I know they also reached out to schools, seniors groups etc. Public meetings called specifically for the purpose arent the only way to reach out to the public.

Comment edited by highwater on 2013-10-17 17:57:55

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By Participatory Budgie (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2013 at 12:52:37 in reply to Comment 93370

I'm surprised and disappointed at all the sniping between well-meaning people in ward 1 and 2 over their respective participatory budgeting processes. Why can't we just agree that both are good developments, neither is perfect, both made different compromises and we all have lots of room to grow and improve?

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By Al (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2013 at 19:22:35 in reply to Comment 93372

it's not sniping, it's advocating for the best model for councillors to follow next time.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2013 at 12:49:52 in reply to Comment 93370

The forward1.ca website is still accepting votes, iirc. And no, budget quantities were not attached. I think a key difference here is that the Ward 1 process is intended to be far more lightweight. If members of the public were required to develop detailed proposals including budget amounts, it would effectively close the process to all but contractors and experts. If the City had to do it for every one of the 500ish submitted proposals, it would bog the process down in expensive bureaucracy. Nobody wants to see 10% of the PB money get eaten up by analytical overhead.

The ward 1 process is flawed, obviously - people wrote lengthy proposals and threw them over the wall and got back vague 1-line synthesis. But I'd hate to see it twisted into some kind of lumbering ungainly beast to satisfy our need for full details. Look at how many great municipal projects have gotten crushed under analysis paralysis.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 17, 2013 at 17:46:12 in reply to Comment 93371

Agree completely. I submitted three ideas that I couldn't and wouldn't have submitted if I'd had to approach various city staff to get quotes. Without price tags attached, the focus becomes what the community truly wants and values, without second guessing about whether certain neighbourhoods and public spaces are 'worth it'. Also, let's face it, most people can probably guess which projects are likely to be bigger ticket items vs. low hanging fruit like park benches.

Sacrificing some of the 'budgeting' aspect of the process made it more participatory for people like me who aren't part of an established community organization with the capacity for putting together formal costed proposals.

Comment edited by highwater on 2013-10-17 17:47:21

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted October 18, 2013 at 14:23:18 in reply to Comment 93376

FYI: No participant in the Ward 2 process was required to cost their proposal themselves. City staff did that work as part of the PB process. It's quite easy for them to ballpark cost projects based on similar ones already completed in the city.

Costing was important to the whole 'budgeting' part of the exercise because it allowed residents to make an informed decision on the potential cost/beneftis of each project.

And Budgie, it's not sniping--dialogue like this is important. The Ward 2 process is apt to change next year (if it survives at all), and learning more about the Ward 1 process has been helpful to the various Ward 2 NAs because it gives us an idea of where we want/don't want to go with any tweaks.

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By alberty (anonymous) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 17:55:06

The ward 2 approach failed because it was complex and elitist and more grassroots than thou. This approach is cooperative between the city and residents and refreshingly simple.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 09:27:36 in reply to Comment 93311

Again with the word "simple". I agree there were some, perhaps, unnecessary complexities in the Ward 2 process and those will be smoothed out over years to come (or so I understand). However, creating a process that is only "simple" takes away some of the protection from the cronyism accusations that are sure to follow. Ward 2's process WAS grassroots, and the voting was all above-board. Alberty, the Ward 2 approach didn't "fail" -- it was conducted differently from the process in Ward 1 and both could perhaps move closer to modelling each other than holding up Ward 1's process as the perfect approach.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2013 at 20:35:13

Interesting that "Bike lane on Cannon to Queen" got short listed in a Ward 1 PB session.

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