Residents of the 37208 zip code in North Nashville will take the next few months debating how to spend $2 million to benefit the community, which has historically seen less public and private investment than other parts of town. It’s the city’s first attempt at so-called “participatory budgeting.”
In relation to the city’s annual construction budget, $2 million is a relatively small expenditure. But Fabian Bedne from the office of Mayor John Cooper says neighborhoods usually have modest requests.
‘People will ask, ‘I want this crosswalk here. I don’t feel safe taking my kid to school. Or I would like a traffic light here or a community garden,'” the former Metro councilmember says. “You would be amazed the number of things people want that would fall within the money that this can pay.”
A newly-named steering committee will narrow the options. The 17 members include neighborhood leaders as well as long-time activists like Rev. Sonnye Dixon and one public official, Judge Rachel Bell. Residents in the designated participatory budget zone will get the final say through voting, tentatively in December, so construction can be completed by this time next year. The first of several in-person meetings was scheduled for Thursday afternoon at Hadley Park, though public comment will be saved for later meetings. Input can also be given online at this email address.
Nashville is the first city in Tennessee to experiment with participatory budgeting, which more cities are trying as a way to give residents a more direct say in how public money is spent. Nashville’s process is meant to be a pilot project, establishing a model of brainstorming and voting that can be used by other Davidson County communities in future years.
“We wanted to make sure we did it right,” Bedne says. “But what I hear from other residents and people in other parts of the city is they would like to see it in their communities as well.”