Participatory Budgeting and Progressive Cities: Are London and Paris Listening to Their Own Voices?

Chapter by Cécile Doustaly in The Rise of Progressive Cities East and West: “Cities around the world have taken the process of local politics outside the field of professional expertise and legitimate culture to allow for greater local participation. In the context of increased urban change, funding cuts and administrative reforms but also citizen’s political disaffection, methodologies to engage inhabitants with their neighbourhoods have been developed in France and Britain over the last 15 years. This chapter focuses on one of the most efficient and popular of such schemes worldwide, participatory budgeting, which chimes surprisingly well with New Public Management practices.

The untapped field of research enquiry lies in understanding developments in participatory budgeting in London and Paris, with an attention to the wider context and scale (from global to national, city, districts and neighbourhoods levels). Conclusions highlight that participatory budgeting needs clear political insight, willpower, funding and local tailoring to be successfully implemented and questions its capacity to outlive change in political parties and leaders. The chapter then identifies the conditions and variables for such programmes to encourage progressive cities characterized by more conviviality, inclusion, distributive justice and environmental sustainability.

The chapter isolates elements of progressivism in PB in London and Paris whose models grew further apart in the period until 2016. While Paris has refined its practice year on, London boroughs community budgets have become scarce, as a result of lack of public funding and democratic empowerment, confirming the view that “economic growth [is] a failing and insufficient criteria to create good governance and liveable cities, as opposed to civic involvement” (Cho and Douglass, Introduction). Participatory budgeting is therefore a flexible instrument which can wave without having left much trace or trigger more wide-ranging improvements and further democratic rights….(More)”.