Something New and Exciting in….Government?

Through a new process of participatory government, community members are able to step up and have a direct say into where city council money is placed.  The money will be taken from the Capital Improvement Fund- which can be up to $5 million- is used to develop physical improvements in neighborhoods.  Josh Lerner, the co-director of The Participatory Budget Project, brought the idea to New York after it had been developed in Brazil and implemented in Toronto, and a district in Chicago.  An article in City Limits published last Wednesday lays out the participatory budgeting process:

Participatory budgeting in New York began in October. Committees of neighborhood leaders and residents organized community meetings in order to brainstorm building projects and educate community members about capital funding.

At the end of that stage, residents who wanted to take an active role volunteered as budget delegates. These delegates began a weeks-long process of taking the projects from ideas scrawled on poster board to fully developed proposals on neighborhood ballots. Delegates divided themselves into committees to tackle areas such as parks and recreation, education and public art.

Since November, budget delegates have whittled down the ideas that came out of community meetings, considering only those that meet the city’s criteria for capital funding. They met with experts from city agencies, community organizations and nonprofits to flesh out projects and set budgets.

The budget delegates sent their final list of projects to city agencies for review. They’ll present the approved projects to their communities through the middle of March.

The exciting part about this process is the way that it engages and empowers community members to take ownership of their community and have input into the way their community functions.  As organizers, we love the idea that folks are coming together to not only unite around certain issues in their community, but think collectively about how to improve them.  In a similar vein, working as tenant organizers, we strive to empower tenants to take ownership of their buildings, and have more of a voice in the way that it is run.  In speaking about participatory budgeting, Lerner attests that

“It’s a huge learning process,” says Lerner. “People who before did not know how city government worked became city government experts.”

We at UHAB would love to see this model expanded to all neighborhoods of New York, particularly into the Bronx and communities in Brooklyn where folks don’t often get a voice in the decisions that effect them.  The more this model is implemented, the more our city will be one in which all voices are heard and respected.

To read more of the article in City Limits, click here.


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