But Helsinki has added some new twists. Most notably, city leaders — working closely with residents and a local design firm — developed a card game to help people come up with ideas for how to spend their share of the budget.
Participatory budgeting weaves through all of that. Helsinki has set aside €4.4 million (roughly $5 million in the U.S.) for residents to use as they wish. While that’s just a fraction of the city’s €4 billion budget, it’s enough to fund dozens of small but locally impactful projects like new playgrounds or bus shelters. It also represents an entirely new way to get residents engaged and thinking about how they can improve their city.
It’s not a free for all and that’s good. Very few people have the ability and the time to discuss a city budget from A to Z. But having a discretionary budget that allows for citizen participation is a great idea. And not just because it will allow for those 4.4 Millions to be spent in a different way, but because it teaches both the city officials as well as the citizens to interact in a meaningful way.