Each council ward in Brisbane has a $400 000 annual budget for footpath and park upgrades that’s allocated by the local councillor. Here in the Gabba Ward, we’ve been trialling a community voting process to give residents a direct say in what this money is spent on.
The local footpaths and parks fund is quite limited in scope, but we used it for our community voting trial because this is the budget that I have the most direct control over as local councillor. Money for other kinds of infrastructure such as pedestrian crossings, bike lanes etc is allocated centrally by the Lord Mayor. Major park upgrades (such as the work in Bunyapa Park on the corner of Thomas St and Vulture St in West End) are also funded centrally out of the capital works budget. So this footpaths and parks budget is really only for smaller projects on footpaths and in existing council parks.
Why Community Voting?
Normally, city councillors allocate their local parks and footpaths budget however they see fit. This creates a situation where some councillors might just do favours for their mates, or allocate funding based on frequent requests and complaints from a vocal minority of residents. As a result, councillors sometimes fail to respond to the needs and local knowledge of the broader community, and the projects which receive funding aren’t always the ones that ordinary residents would consider to be most worthwhile.
By using a more democratic process where residents have a direct say, we can reduce the risk of arbitrary or corrupt decision-making. But more importantly, we are encouraging residents to share and compare their ideas about the kinds of changes they want to see in their community. Through community voting, residents practice deliberative decision-making skills that can then be applied to other areas of life and to other government decisions.
We used a participatory budgeting process to allocate the footpaths and parks fund. You can find a more detailed explanation of this process via the voting website.
1. Residents suggest projects via face-to-face workshops, by contacting my office, or through the website.
2. We check whether each project suggestion is eligible to be funded out of the footpaths and parks budget, and ask council to provide an approximate cost.
3. Residents then vote for as many eligible projects as they wanted up to a total value of $350 000 (we kept $50 000 in reserve in case urgent projects were overlooked).
4. I then ask council officers to design and construct the projects that attracted the most votes.