View from Downtown: The Polls are Open!

May 4,2020

Amir Farokhi, Atlanta City Council, District 2

In the months to come, the view from Peachtree, Marietta, Edgewood, and many other Downtown streets will change. Exactly how it will change is up to you. That’s because this Monday we opened voting for the City’s first-ever participatory budgeting process: “Downtown Decides!” 

Over a year ago, my office authored a white paper exploring the prospect of bringing a “participatory budgeting” (PB) pilot to Atlanta. In short, PB is a process through which a city sets aside public tax dollars for residents to determine how to spend. In its simplest form, residents submit proposals, the City reviews them for cost/feasibility/legality, and then residents vote. 

The idea is rooted in the notion that (1) direct democracy leads to greater transparency and accountability from government and (2) the more engaged residents are, the stronger a city is. PB was pioneered in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1988. Today, you can find it everywhere from Paris and Madrid to New York City and Chicago. Collectively, world leaders have bought into the merits of PB. And, to great effect. Cities that have embraced it have found increased trust in government, a more engaged population, stronger neighborhoods, and better policy outcomes.

So why not Atlanta? Late last year, it became clear that roughly $1 million in TSPLOST/Renew funds dedicated to the portion of City Council District 2 located Downtown remained unspent. Rather than unilaterally decide how the funds should be spent, I, in partnership with the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, decided to launch a PB program. Because the funds were generated by the TSPLOST/Renew program, they must be spent on transportation-related improvements.

For two months, my office and ADID canvassed Downtown streets, met with residents, talked to classes at GSU, and solicited ideas online. The project has generated more interest than we could have hoped for: 115 proposals. 

In turn, the newly-formed Atlanta Department of Transportation helped us vet and cost out the proposals to whittle things down to a final ballot of 33 potential transportation infrastructure improvements – everything from new bike lanes and sidewalk upgrades to painted crosswalks and a parklet. 

Now, it’s time to vote! The polls are open through the end of May. If you live, work, or just visit Downtown, you’re eligible to weigh in. All you have to do is to go to www.downtowndecides.com. There, you’ll be given a $1 million budget and left with the same hard decisions that government has to make: Given finite resources, what projects do you believe will best improve our city?

Once voting closes, we will look at which projects are the most popular and determine how many can be implemented with the available funds.

I hope that you’ll participate in this historic effort. Your voice matters and can shape our city for the better. Have fun voting!