By Lara Schuman ‘18
Participatory budgeting (PB) is a process in which ordinary people gather to decide how to allocate a portion of the city’s budget. The money can finance neighborhood projects and even projects within schools. These projects are intended to improve neighborhoods.
Each city council member decides whether to implement PB. If they decide to implement it they allocate at least 1 million dollars to it. Projects are put into two different categories of funding; expense funds and capital funds. Expense funds are used for salaries and services that people provide to help complete the project e.g. small one-time infrastructure projects. Capital funds are used for infrastructure for more permanent projects that benefit a community for a sustained period of time.
Past projects that have been completed are a purchase of new books and equipment for local libraries, renovations of a public school’s bathrooms, providing laptop carts in public schools. There are also many other projects in process of being completed. Some of these projects include: renovation in decrepit gyms of public schools and the creation of freeze-resistant water fountains, making them available all year round.
PB is a great way for people of a community to get involved in local government at its most basic level. It gives people more power in government decisions that will directly affect their lives.
“I think that PB has the capability to completely change the way district residents view their government,” Ilana Cohen from The Beacon School said. “PB empowers ordinary people and bridges the distance between local elected officials and their constituents; the process is about unity, inclusivity, and equity.”
In order to get involved you must live within a community with PB. There are 9 council districts with PB in Brooklyn, encompassing the neighborhoods: Bensonhurt, Coney Island, Flatbush, Midwood, Crown Heights, Sunset Park, Bed-Stuy, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, etc. You can find out if your neighborhood has PB at http://council.nyc.gov/districts/. You can also only vote within your district.
Anyone 14 or older can vote in PB and participate in the process of creating ideas for the ballot. Youths can get involved in youth committees where they brainstorm ideas for the ballot.
They also come up with ideas on how to spread the word on participatory budgeting. Teens can volunteer at poll sites or give out paper ballots at pop-up poll sites. Pop-up poll sites may be given to parents that are picking their kids up from school.
“I decided to join PB because of the sense of leadership PB gives to teens,” Eliza Callahan from The Beacon School said. “We can voice our opinions and really make changes regarding issues we find important in the community.”
Participatory budgeting is much more inclusive than voting in elections. You can vote in PB regardless of your immigration status. All you need is an address within a district that has PB and you will be able to vote.
“What never ceases to amaze me about PB is how accessible the process is because people who might otherwise never be able to cast a ballot in their lives or who are told that their age or citizenship status disqualifies them from voting are able to cast a vote, and more than that, to have their voices heard,” Cohen said.
Cycle 6 vote week is March 25-April 2, 2017, you can find out where to vote for your district on http://council.nyc.gov/pb/.
“PB gives ordinary people real power over real money,” according to participatorybudgeting.org.