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Porto Alegre: Participatory Budgeting and the Challenge of Sustaining Transformative Change

Rebecca Abers, Igor Brandão, Robin King, and Daniely Votto  

Porto Alegre pioneered the Participatory Budget (PB) in the 1990s, which contributed to the popularity of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores; PT) and served as a model throughout Brazil and the world, with over 2,700 governments implementing some version of it.1 In Porto Alegre, the PB was successful as a model for mobilizing communities, including the poor, improving access to small-scale infrastructure and services, and transforming citizenship. Over time, city leaders’ political support of the PB has declined, and Porto Alegre’s current leadership has suspended the process, calling into question its long-term influence. For participatory budgeting to continue to support transformative urban change, it must be well-structured to ensure participation from a wide range of actors across society, have adequate financial resources, be rooted in institutions that are responsive to changing political realities, and be accompanied by a commitment to implement the proposals the process generates. 

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