Paris’ first female mayor began her term with a dramatic democratic move: opening the city budget to public participation. Mayor Anne Hidalgo set aside €426 million, 5 percent of the city’s investment budget for 2014 to 2020, for this budget participatif project. With this being the largest amount ever dedicated to such a scheme, Hidalgo proclaimed she was, “handing the keys of the budget to the citizens.” As Parisians prepared to partake in this unprecedented project, Hidalgo entrusted the public with the franchise to decide how to improve their city.

During the last week of September 2014, Parisians of all ages and nationalities were invited to vote on 15 potential city improvement projects for inclusion in the city’s 2015 spending plan. Nearly 41,000 citizens voted, with polls distributed both online and at 200 physical locations throughout the city. Nine projects were proclaimed winners, with a total cost of just under €20 million.

The winning projects largely reflect environmental concerns. Collecting the most votes was a proposal to create at least 40 vegetation walls to improve biodiversity in local areas. Coming in second place was a plan to introduce “learning gardens” in primary schools, and, in third place was a scheme to transform derelict and abandoned areas around the city’s ring road into spaces for arts performances and community events. Other winning projects include mobile trash collection points to encourage recycling and co-working spaces for young entrepreneurs.

The project encouraged meaningful participation in local governance for Parisians of all ages, backgrounds, and political identities. Hidalgo said of the revolutionary project, “We wanted to give Parisians a voice. Democracy is not only a word in the dictionary, it’s something that must be practiced.”

With plans to conduct a similar vote in 2015, Parisians are being encouraged to suggest their own project ideas. New public submissions are already being accepted at https://budgetparticipatif.paris.fr/bp/.

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Colleen Maney

Colleen is a recent graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. With an academic background in International Affairs and Political Science, Colleen’s research revolves around post-conflict reconciliation...

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