In case you’re new to the neighborhood, Joe Moore is the Alderman of Chicago’s 49th Ward.
Upon graduating from DePaul University College of Law in 1984, he went to work for the City of Chicago Department of Law. Moore has worked for the city ever since. He first took over the position of Alderman in April of 1991. Since then, he has been re-elected six times.
In 2009 alderman Moore introduced participatory budgeting to the United States. Moore made the 49th ward the first political jurisdiction in the nation to adopt participatory budgeting as an approach to public spending.
Participatory budgeting is a process in which community members meet, discuss and then vote on what neighborhood improvements they’d like money from the city budget spent on. Moore also spearheaded the effort to bring community policing to Chicago.
The 49th Ward was selected as one of the first areas of the city to host a community policing pilot project, which resulted in a 54 percent reduction in serious crime over a 15-year period.
In 2017, Moore voiced support for the Concord At Sheridan. This controversial building, which will house a Target store and 111 apartments, is currently under construction near Loyola University Chicago.
Moore sat down with us to chat about crime, gentrification and how residents can easily improve the neighborhood through a process known as participatory budgeting.
Can you talk about the improvements you’ve seen in Rogers Park from when you were first elected to city council in 1991?
I think our community is much safer than it was 27 years ago. Crime is less than half of what it was then, and our businesses on Jarvis, Morse, and Sheridan Rd. are much more vibrant and successful than they were. Our families also have a range of choices of quality schools that they did not have before.
Do you believe that introducing community policing has had a significant effect on decreasing crime in Rogers Park?
Yes. We have probably the strongest community police relationship of any police district in the city. Community policing in Chicago was born here in Rogers Park. A good working relationship with the community and the police department has played a key role in the neighborhood becoming safer.
Where and when did you first learn about participatory budgeting?
I first heard about participatory budgeting at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta in 2007, when I attended a presentation about participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre. I thought, ‘If I was the mayor of Chicago, I would implement something like this.’ After that initial thought, I realized that Chicago is one of the few cities where city council members have a little bit of money that they can spend at their discretion, and then I thought to myself, ‘I could still do this.’
Why did you decide to bring participatory budgeting to the United States?
The first thing I thought was, ‘This could be a really great tool for engaging the public in deciding how those capital expenditures are allocated.’ I believe at a time when people feel very distant and distrustful of their government, participatory budgeting was the perfect answer to that. It gives people real power to make real decisions on projects that effect the quality of their lives and effect the quality of life in this community.
How can people get involved with participatory budgeting?
Very easily. We have community meetings that launch the participatory budgeting process each year. This year they are starting in late April and going into early May. These are opportunities for people to find out what participatory budgeting is, contribute ideas on projects we could spend our $1.3 million on, and get involved. Anyone can be one of the people that decides what kind of projects are considered by the voter.
Is there a way people can contribute ideas if they are unable to attend the meetings?
If people are for whatever reason unable to attend the meetings, they can contribute ideas through our website, and we’ve got a Facebook page dedicated to the participatory budget.
How was $1.3 million decided on for participatory budgeting?
It was really decided for me by the City. In Chicago, each alderman is given $1.3 million every year to spend at their discretion on neighborhood capital improvement projects. The money is called the “Aldermanic Menu Fund.” Most Alderman just make the decisions on their own. In 2009, I teamed up with a non-profit called the Participatory Budgeting Process and we decided to turn my discretionary fund over to the community for that process.
Do you find there are certain projects the community is more inclined to use the PB money for?
It’s a real mix. Anywhere from 60%-70% of the money is spent on basic infrastructure, streets, sidewalks, alleys, new street lights, but voters also understand that quality of life is more than just smoothed roads. Other ways people use the money are for dog parks or heat lamps for people waiting for the “L.” People take a holistic view of the needs of the ward.
What impact do you think the Concord At Sheridan development will have on the community?
It will have a great impact on the community. The Target store will bring a great retail amenity that people currently have to go outside the community for. Items like apparel and houseware are currently not found in our community. People have to take their dollars and spend them outside Rogers Park, and they can now spend them in the community. The Target will also bring more jobs to the community.
A concern many people have is the project accelerating gentrification. Since it will be a desirable location for Loyola students to live, rent could rise, forcing Rogers Park residents out. How do you respond to this?
The Concord development provides 111 units of residential housing. The more residential housing we have the greater the supply, making housing more affordable for everyone. In this particular case, nearly two-thirds of the units will be housing for very low-income people to continue. This ensures that even as the neighborhood improves Rogers Park continues to remain home to people of all incomes.
In your extensive political career, what would you say is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced are challenges a lot of elected officials in urban areas face, pressures on gentrification, improving quality housing, stopping crime, and challenges in education. We’ve been tackling those issues effectively, but we aren’t there yet, and we still have a ways to go.