What is the Sustainable Participatory Budget?
Like many cities around the world, Bordeaux has been facing increasing environmental challenges such as rising water levels, frequent heat waves, soil sealing, and loss of biodiversity. Amidst these challenges, the city is grappling with how to preserve their environment while promoting social and economic opportunity for citizens.
In the City of Bordeaux, tackling some of the most pressing urban issues are the very people who these issues will affect in the long run: Bordeaux residents. The city’s sustainable participatory budget is a contemporary tool that empowers residents to have a say in how the City addresses climate change, as well as other pressing issues such as the digital revolution, changing demographics, financing strategies, and territorial reform. With the current political climate calling for renewal of democratic expression, this initiative promotes active civic engagement and inspires collective participation from all residents- regardless of age, citizenship status, or nationality- in budgetary and decision-making processes.
The participatory budget process launched in 2019. Citizens can submit projects, which, once analyzed by the town’s experts, are subjected to a public vote. The projects with the most votes are then implemented by the City within two years.
While projects can vary widely under the initiative, each project submitted must work towards the goal of increasing sustainability and/or resilience in the city. One of the selected projects implemented by the City in 2019 is an installation of “Nest Boxes Across the City.” Located in various places around Bordeaux for bats, swallows, and tits, 236 nest boxes provide safe enclosure for nesting. The project reflects the citizens’ desire to boost biodiversity in their local environment and create more eco-centric behavior. In the same spirit, the city also launched the project “Fruit Trees Across the City” in November 2019. As part of this project, several fruit trees have been planted around the city, adding shade from sun exposure, creating new habitats, and helping limit the effects of heat waves. The project also responds to an increasing demand on the part of Bordeaux’s residents to go back to a more organic and less segmented city organization, for instance by returning trees to the utilitarian role they long played before being abandoned in favor of an ornamental role in the nineteenth century.
The initiative is part of a socio-environmental theory called “urban acupuncture,” using small-scale interventions to transform the larger urban context. Careful integration of numerous transparency and feedback measures contributes greatly to the success of the initiative and works to build trust between the local government and residents. Bordeaux’s participatory budgeting model exemplifies optimal collaboration between the public and municipal government, as well as taking an inventive approach to civic engagement and responding to sustainability challenges.
When COVID-19 first hit Bordeaux, the City was afraid that the pandemic would alter its ability to implement projects selected by its citizens. Civic participation was becoming difficult, as people weren’t able to physically meet and interact, but the City rapidly developed new online tools to keep engaging with its population. Through this approach, the City was able to keep in touch with residents, many of whom were more willing than ever to get involved despite the constraints imposed by the crisis. It also placed new importance on the need for local and sustainable solutions, for example, addressing food self-sufficiency and active mobility. The City is now planning to renew the initiative in 2021 for a second edition.