top of page

What Do Our Communities Need to Be Safe and Thriving?

Ivan Arenas (2018 Fellow) and Paola Aguirre (2019 Fellow)

The People’s Budget created a city budget that reflected the needs of Chicago’s most impacted communities.

The goal of The People's Budget was to create a city budget that reflects the investment priorities of Chicago’s most impacted communities. 

The Why

The City budget process is government-centered, removed from communities experiencing the most disinvestment, and lacks accountability.

The City budget doesn’t reflect the needs of the Chicagoans most impacted by the legacy of historical and ongoing systemic racial inequities, and this outcome is reflected in the lived experiences of the Black and Brown communities located in the West and South sides of the City. The budget process is highly inaccessible, government-centered, removed from the communities that experience the most disinvestment, and lacking an accountability mechanism.


Creating a People’s Budget required bringing the process to communities and building the tools and partnerships needed to host community workshops to make more accessible the budget information while strategizing ways to advocate for these collective priorities.

Project Gallery

The Collaborators

The People’s Budget worked with over 25 organizations, facilitators from 6 different organizations, and resident participants in 13 neighborhoods and facilitation design developed by a team of organizers, civic educators, and policy researchers.

These efforts were coordinated by Paola Aguirre, Iván Arenas, Vanessa Dominguez, Tiffany Ford, Vanessa Lee, Karina Martinez, Sarah Oberholtzer, and Andrea Ortiz. We are grateful to City Bureau Documenters and On the Real Film for capturing the budget priorities and stories of Chicagoans who built this budget.

The How

The People’s Budget used the Childhood Opportunity Index (COI) to highlight the inequity in community resources that help determine which children in the city are more likely to grow into healthy, productive adults.

This project was developed from May 2020 through fall 2021. The People's Budget worked with over twenty-five organizations to pull this People's Budget together, with facilitators from six different organizations, resident participants in 13 neighborhoods, and facilitation design developed by a team of organizers, civic educators, and policy researchers. 


The People’s Budget used the Childhood Opportunity Index (COI) as the base of research to highlight the inequities in resources such as “access to early childhood education and schools, safe housing, access to healthy food, parks and playgrounds and clean air” that help determine which children in the city are “more likely to grow into healthy, productive adults than children who don’t”.

The Outcomes

A community-centered budget process based in community narratives, shared-decision making, and accountability strategies.

  • A community-centered process to define collective priorities for investment 

  • A participatory budget process based in shared values.

  • Created space for collective reflection, shared-decision making, and co-creation of accountability strategies to advocate for these priorities.

  • Amplified community narratives that reflect community-centered priorities.

  • Expanded organizing capacity for budget accountability, with a special focus on alderpeople.

The CUE Influence

This CUE impact project was implemented by CUE Senior Fellows and other members of the CUE community.

Leading the research team for the People's Budget Chicago as a Senior Fellow was an opportunity to translate the values of racial equity and civic love that CUE brings to this work into a concrete project. Knowing that everyone shared those values and that the team was working together to manifest the goal of greater racial equity allowed for the kind of trust that a fast moving project like this required and that made it a success.