June 30, 2016 8:05 AM EDT

We dutifully pay taxes, but we rarely get a say in how the money is spent. That’s beginning to change, thanks to a concept called participatory budgeting, which lets residents vote on local funding proposals created by their neighbors. Since 2009, when Chicago alderman Joe Moore set aside $1.3 million for his constituents to direct, the idea has spread to pockets across the country. As a result, thousands of people in places like New York City; Vallejo, Calif.; and Cambridge, Mass., have had a hand in how their schools, neighborhoods and parks get much-needed dollars.

Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com.

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