Direct Democracy In Saint Petersburg: Let’s Try

Two students from Political Science and World Politics Programme know how to spend 15 million rubles to make Saint Petersburg better.

Direct Democracy In Saint Petersburg: Let’s Try

«Твой бюджет» (Tvoi budget) which translates as “your budget” is a city program that gives an opportunity for anybody who lives in Saint Petersburg (and is a Russian cititzen) to directly influence city budget spending and to bring to life one of their ideas, if it costs no more than 15 million rubles.

Kristina and me (Mikhail Petrov), students of Political Science and World Politics Programme, decided to take our chances and apply for this program. For that, first, you have to offer some idea for the city improvement – something you want to change or something you want to create. That can be anything from recreation areas to ecology projects and bike lanes. You can only submit one idea in one district, and at the end only 7 of all the city districts will be sponsored - the ones that get more submissions. Of that I wasn’t aware and my primary focus was on the district that did not become a participant. However, for some reason, I also randomly submitted one idea in the district I don’t live, but this one luckily become a participant, and I automatically receive an opportunity to become a part of the budget commission, no matter what my idea is, no matter anything, anybody who applied in this district now is invited to the drawing, Kristina is too, but she does live in this district.

Drawing, yes. Those who will get into the program will be randomly chosen by drawing names from a box. That, as they say, makes it perfectly fair and accessible for absolutely anybody, the only influencer is a fate. What is interesting – they ask children to do the drawing, so to make sure there is no bias. After these children draw 20 names – those 20 people (and 20 for reserve) become the budget commission members, they will be doing all the job during next few months, from pitching their ideas to communicating with the city departments about how or weather it’s possible to do what they want. At the end, this committee will have to agree upon which ideas to be realized, and how to spend 15 million rubles of the given budget. Along the process, members of the commission will be educated and given all the support needed.

So, my idea was to change the roof drain pipe (waterspout) system so that it would not redirect water from the roof to the surface of the sidewalk, but rather to the canalization right away, as it’s been done in Finland. Kristina’s idea is to create a crosswalk and a bus stop at the place where it’s really needed. But thing is, it doesn’t matter, we could stick to our ideas, but also could change them, anyway first you need to be lucky enough to have your name drawn.

Now is the day of drawing. There were about 700 applications (funny thing is 80% of the applications are concerning one particular park everybody wants to make better), the number of people in the room is 82 – only those who came can participate in the drawing. 20 people will be chosen for the primary committee, another 20 for a reserve one, and they say that one third of the reserve committee members get, sooner or later, into the primary one, because the rules are tough and being in a committee you’ll have to attend meetings at least once a week, and if you miss more than 3 times, you’re expelled, so people get out of the committee quite fast. So really, it’s a 50/50 chance to get into a commission.

Guess what? Kristina is in the commission. She won, sort of. Her name was drawn one of first twenty. Guess also what? I am in the reserve commission, my name was 21st to be drawn, I was close. But anyway, Kristina is for sure now in the business, and I have a chance to become too if someone fails, but I also get an opportunity to visit all the trainings, which is quite fascinating. They will educate us on the city management system, and we will meet people who manage city departments. I am looking forward to it, and to seeing what a debate those 20 people, including Kristina, will have over these 15 million rubles.

The program, however, is not perfect and even though thanks to it, for example, there is a bike lane along the Fontanka River Embankment, there were projects that were funded but never came to life because of the poor interdepartmental communication. For example, there was a project of a bike lane that was meant to be going passing through Saint Isaac’s cathedral and the project did win, it received funding and was designed, but then everything stopped because some of the city committees (there were more than 5 to receive a permission from) were blocking it, so the project never came to life. Some projects were realized but not as it was designed by its author, making them sometimes quite useless, as it was, for example, with the Kashin bridge, where the idea was to make it accessible for those who can’t do the stairs (which are quite steef), but they only made a ramp from one side of the bridge, so there is no real sense in it.

But anyway, we’ll see what we can do and try make our city better!

Text by
Mikhail Petrov