This post was written by Stephanie Killiam, a summer intern for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families.
The Boston Youth Zone deserves a huge spotlight for their historic involvement in the nation’s first ever youth-led participatory budgeting project. Last November, Boston’s former Mayor Thomas Menino challenged Boston’s Youth to decide how to spend $1 million of the city’s capital budget.
As a result of the challenge, the Boston Youth Council encouraged Boston’s youth and young adults to become involved in the decision for allocating the funds. The city’s adopted 2014 fiscal budget is set at $2.6 billion, allowing the youth community to take control of 3.8 percent of the city’s budget.
Boston named the nation’s first youth participatory budgeting process, Youth Lead the Change. The goal of the groundbreaking process is not only to encourage citizen participation in government funding but also to allow the youth voice to be heard. This project is founded on the belief that citizens, specifically youth, will show more interest initially and in the long-term when given the power to be engaged in community decisions. During the brainstorming process, youth and the community are educated on what projects would be eligible for capital funding.
The participatory budgeting process includes four steps:
- Community members brainstorm ideas;
- Volunteers translate the ideas into project proposals;
- Community members vote on most needed or most popular projects; and
- The projects with the most votes are funded.
In March 2014, a steering committee had seven brainstorming sessions allowing youth to voice their ideas on how to allocate the $1 million. Youth unable to attend the sessions could submit their ideas online. Youth volunteers, identified as “change agents,” compiled the online and youth assembly submissions for review. These change agents, with the help of contracted adult experts, worked together to research and design program proposals for the shared ideas. After completion of the program proposals, youth chose 14 of the best projects to advance to the community ballot.
For six consecutive days, beginning June 14, Boston youth residents ages 12 to 25 took to the polling stations. Each ballot listed a total of 14 projects in one of four categories: Streets and safety; Parks, Environment and Health; Community and Culture; and Education. Voters selected their favorite four projects, one per category. Boston’s youth community, ages 12 to 25, includes a population of approximately 150,000 residents. From this population the polling stations collected over 1,500 eligible votes.
The result of the first ever youth participatory budgeting process includes the selection of seven capital funding projects, an estimated budget and a description of the funding details. The selected projects are:
- Franklin Park Playground and Picnic Area Update ($400,000)
- Boston Art Walls ($60,000)
- Chromebooks for High Schools in East Boston, South Boston, and Charlestown ($90,000)
- Skate Park Feasibility Study ($50,000)
- Security Cameras for Dr. Loesch Family Park ($110,000)
- Paris Street Playground Extreme Makeover ($100,000)
- New Sidewalks for New Parks ($105,000)
The spotlight will continue to shine on Boston as youth councils and committees across the country anticipate completion of the Youth Lead the Change Participatory Budgeting improvement projects. Best practices for youth civic engagement efforts such as youth summits, youth councils/advisory boards, and voting youth positions on city boards and commissions, in the past have yielded many positive results.
To learn more about youth civic engagement and to network with youth leaders across the country, attend the 90th Anniversary Congress of Cities Conference and Exhibition in Austin, Texas, November 19-22, 2014. The Harnessing the Strenth of Millennials and Boomers in Your Community workshop will highlight how cities are engaging the millennial and baby boomer generations in decision making.