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Another city is possible! Alternatives to the city as a commodity: Participatory Budgeting. Dossier nº1

In cities and neighbourhoods throughout the world, citizens and communities are resisting, organizing themselves and generating alternatives to challenge an imposed urbanization model based solely on market rules that systematically generates social and economic exclusion. These alternatives mitigate the negative impacts of a crisis, sometimes referred to as “3F” (Food, Fuel and Finance). Over the next  years six dossiers will be published as part of the collection: Another city is possible!

Alternatives to the city as a commodity.

The dossiers will introduce some of these alternatives and their actors and also include written and visual resources for those who want to know more and become involved. These are far from exhaustive accounts of the alternative ways that people are building “other possible and liveable cities”, realising Utopian ideals envisioned through the World Social Forum. However, each one of the alternatives listed below corresponds, in our opinion, to the most promising ways to reclaim the “Right to the City”. 

Forming part of the  “Another city is possible” series written in anticipation of the Habitat III conference in Quito in 2016, this collection of 23 case files on participatory budgeting (PB) challenges dominant conceptions of urban futures for cities in a way that goes beyond anecdotal experimentations.

The book is structured in four sub-dossiers, which provide readers with relevant background information on the following topics:

·         key challenges;

·         a wide range of practical case study narratives of PB experiences around the world;

·         the contribution of PB to broader issues such as the democratization of local-level governance; and

·         an excellent list of recommended readings, websites and films in Portuguese, Spanish, French and English.

PB emerged in 1989 in Brazil. Since then it has steadily expanded in villages, cities, and regions and diversified its theoretical and practical approaches. Focusing on PB experiences that have the capacity to demonstrate that “another city is possible”, the authors highlight that there is no blueprint solution; rather, a variety of social, political and financial dimensions have to be considered to unleash the potential of this mechanism. Analytically, they distinguish PB according to the type of territory, theme and actor, creating a table of PB profiles that includes their underlying rationales.

Case studies include Cascais in Portugal, where PB triggered a diverse urban agriculture movement. There, people and community organizations took the importance of environmental issues seriously and developed and implemented creative solutions such as a teaching farm, community kitchen and knowledge workshop. The case of Belo Horizonte is widely known and discussed for producing low-income housing and infrastructure works and supporting self-management in Brazilian favelas. It is considered one of the longest-running and most original PB cases. The mining town of Ilo in Peru, which has 63,000 inhabitants, stands out as a city that allocates 100 per cent of its capital budget in a participatory way. Over its 15 years of experience, which led to a highly institutionalized process, it has seen a large number of people discussing and voting on an exceptionally large budget, which comes from mining royalties from the central government.

In sum, the series highlights in a critical yet encouraging way how PB can serve as a mechanism that can generate alternatives to cities as commodities. It does so by providing possibilities for new forms of community-led organizations to develop and be empowered. This aids in the (re)building of trust among citizens and the public sector, but also requires a lot of time and energy to be established, up-scaled and deeply institutionalized.