Nashville Mayor John Cooper, front, and advisor Fabian Bedne, speak to a group of people at Hadley Park Community Center about participatory budgeting. (Photo: Ian Round)
Residents of North Nashville and Bordeaux will be able to direct some public money to community gardens, potholes, reparations or whatever else they choose over the next year, through a process called “participatory budgeting.”
Metro named a group of local leaders to a committee on Thursday night, in a dance studio at the Hadley Park Community Center. The committee will spend $2 million on hyperlocal community projects, decided through a democratic process with public input.
“People are like, ‘No, there has to be a catch,’” said Fabian Bedne, Mayor John Cooper’s senior manager of community development. “But that’s what it is.”
It’s the first time Nashville has tried this, and it’s an attempt by Mayor John Cooper and other local leaders to begin to reverse generations of disinvestment in the predominantly Black area.
“We need some vision, and just old fashioned ideas and community building,” Cooper said in brief remarks at the beginning of the meeting. “The question is how you redress a historic disinvestment in your community.”
$2 million is a tiny amount compared to Metro’s roughly $2.6 billion budget, but leaders think it will be popular, and voters will demand more direct control over their local tax dollars. New York City, Chicago, Seattle and Toronto are among the cities that use participatory budgeting to some degree.
It’s still months away from the stage where they solicit ideas from the public, and farther yet from a vote on those ideas.
There were no public comments during the first meeting, which was mostly administrative. Members introduced themselves and they elected three to an executive committee.
Judge Rachel L. Bell of the Metro Nashville General Sessions court was elected chair. Mental health counselor Eric Capehart was elected vice chair, and De’Sean Keys, student activities coordinator at Tennessee State University, was elected treasurer.
The area where the committee has power stretches from south of Jefferson Street all the way to White’s Creek. (Here’s an interactive map of the covered area.)
Metro Councilmember Brandon Taylor recommended a number of community leaders to Cooper to serve on the committee. Taylor, whose district includes much of the area covered in the pilot project, said he hopes participatory budgeting could be a way to make reparations to Black residents.
“It’s a good start,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a great start. Two million dollars is not a lot of money.”
Committee member Olusola Tribble, a racial equity consultant, said she’d like to see money go to public art, community gardens, swingsets and merry-go-rounds, among a number of other things.“We have some parks, but they’re not complete,” she said.
But, she said, the city needs to make a much bigger investment in participatory budgeting.
It won’t be enough, she said, “Until there aren’t any potholes, until we don’t have any areas that don’t have access to fresh food, until we can just walk to a park.”
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