Atlanta’s experiment in participatory budgeting: Nearly 3,500 votes cast, 17 projects chosenThe notion of developing a vehicle-free area in the Fairlie-Poplar District of Downtown Atlanta was strongly endorsed by voters in Atlanta's first experiment with participatory budgeting. Atlanta will provide funds to promote the concept. Credit: Kelly Jordan
By David Pendered
Atlanta City Councilmember Amir Farokhi’s experiment with participatory budgeting garnered almost 3,500 online votes. That means nearly 3,500 individuals responded to an offer to play a direct role in deciding how to spend $1 million in public funds for transportation.
The result of the votes is a list of 17 projects that aim to improve mobility in Downtown Atlanta, which is part of Farokhi’s district. The selected projects run a wide gamut – from adding handicapped access ramps, and trash and recycling bins, to removing signal crossing buttons and studying the possible removal of stoplights at little-used intersections. Cycling got a significant nod, in the form of support for creative bike racks and secure bicycle charging stations.
Money for the projects is to come from unspent proceeds of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. Specifically, funds that had been linked to projects Downtown and are not necessary for those purposes.
The full list of projects selected by voters is available on the Downtown Decides! tab of Farokhi’s website.
In the bigger picture, Farokhi noted, the exercise in participatory budgeting shows a healthy appetite among individuals for using their vote to directly influence projects that directly affect them. The final count showed 3,479 individuals voted. Farokhi observed in a statement released Monday:
- “Given all that’s going on in the world, it speaks volumes that nearly 3,500 people took the time to vote. This was a small initiative in the grand scheme of things. But the lessons are clear. People want the chance to be more civically engaged.
- “They want the opportunity for their great ideas to come to life. They want a direct say in the future of our city. I believe it’s incumbent on us as elected officials to provide opportunities like this. It makes for a stronger, more representative democracy in our city.”
Farokhi and his supporters worked in tandem with the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District. Organizers met their deadline to conduct the online balloting in May, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and, in the final days, concerns related to the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.
The elections process was open to Atlanta residents who live, work, study or visit Downtown Atlanta. The process started in November 2019.
At that time, the public was invited to recommend transportation improvement projects in a specific area of Downtown. More than 100 proposals were submitted, and they vetted for feasibility by city officials. Thirtythree ideas made the final ballot and 17 projects made the final cut. The construction timeline is to be devised by the city’s still-forming Department of Transportation.
Farokhi initiated the participatory budgeting exercise with a high measure of idealism. Farokhi portrayed it as a way to renew the public’s confidence in government. Writing in a guest column posted Jan. 13, 2019 in SaportaReport, Farokhi observed:
- “Public trust in government is historically low. At a time when voting rights are under attack, transparency the exception, and inaction on critical issues the frustrating norm, cynicism about government is at fever pitch. Yet, democratic government is well placed to reestablish public trust; city government, even more so. More nimble and less partisan than any other level of government, City Hall is where residents should have the most direct input.”