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Texas City’s LEGO Budget Video Goes Viral: Watch

A blockbuster video stars a LEGO re-creation of the city of Arlington, Texas. A city official’s hobby is helping citizens understand how it makes budget decisions.

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Arlington’s stop-motion video shows citizens how their property taxes are used to fund essential services. (City of Arlington)
Social media hasn’t always been a friend to government, but a creative approach to storytelling by the city of Arlington, Texas, proves that the nation’s most dominant social media channel can be a great place to engage citizens. A YouTube video about the city’s budget has become a viral hit, amassing more than 700,000 views to date.

Build, Unite, Create: Using LEGO Bricks to Explain Arlington's FY2022 Budget was shot using stop-motion animation in a LEGO reconstruction of the city built by Jay Warren, its director of communication and legislative affairs.

“Some of the LEGOs that were used date back to my childhood in the '80s,” says Warren. “Fortunately, my mother didn’t get rid of those things, and when I was able to get them and start building again, I did.”

He spent the last decade building a LEGO Arlington, strictly as a hobby. But when he hosted a Christmas party at his home, a city freelancer stumbled upon his creation and suggested that it be used for the next budget video. “Every year, it’s a very similar story and this gave us a good creative outlet to do something different from what we’ve done in the past.”


A LEGO re-creation of the city of Arlington, Texas is the setting for a YouTube video about its FY2022 budget.


Big Hits, Small Budgets


To put the public response in perspective, one common formula for evaluating video views is the ratio of views to subscribers. An average ratio is about 14 percent; the LEGO video's ratio sits at 10,000 percent and counting.

The 2022 budget spot is not the first hit for the city’s communications team. A video explaining the FY2020 operating budget, shot in a supermarket and comparing budgeting and shopping decisions, amassed over half a million views; the FY2021 release reached nearly 600,000 people.

Warren worked in television news for 20 years before coming to the city, and he brings the charisma and presence of a professional broadcaster to these pieces and to voicing the animated LEGO narrator of the 2021 production. This doesn’t mean that these projects have been expensive, however.

“An important factor is how we can create this kind of content but not break the budget,” he says. Software used to facilitate the stop-motion process for the LEGO video cost $150 or less. It's not likely a LEGO master will be on hand to re-create every jurisdiction, but anyone interested in this style could create something with a few figures, trees and buildings.

A Culture of Innovation


With more than 400,000 residents, Arlington is more populous than New Orleans and nearly as big as Miami. Yet, elected officials and city managers have helped Arlington retain something of a small-town feel through a focus on innovation and customer service, says Warren.

The LEGO video combines both of these, he says. “It’s an innovative way to tell a story, and hopefully that translates into better customer service — our residents are better informed about how their tax dollars are being used and can better articulate how they’d like to see the money spent.”

Build, Unite, Create hasn’t shown up on Rotten Tomatoes yet, but the reviews in its comments section are strong.

“This should be included in all school curriculum for high school to help them better understand what taxes go to!,” wrote one viewer.

Another found both information and inspiration in Arlington’s offering. “Who knew legos could be used to explain Arlington's budget!! Now I'm going to definitely use legos to explain to my grandkids how to put their glasses in the sink.”
Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at carl.smith@governing.com or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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