What is PB? I’ll give you a hint: if you participated in PB you’d get the sticker pictured above: PB = Participatory Budgeting. And just what is Participatory Budgeting? Well it starts with an idea that would benefit the community, then you get the people of your district to support this idea, and finally with enough support the idea gets on put on the ballot which is voted on in the spring. After the vote 5 projects then go forward and get the funding to become a tangible reality.
From April 13th–19th (in District 33) and from April 11th–19th (in District 34) libraries, community centers, parks, senior centers, etc., became polling places to make the vote for Participatory Budgeting easily accessible. In the 33rd and 34th Districts, any resident who is 14 years of age or older and can provide proof of address is eligible to vote. You then are given a ballot (and a description of each project if you need) and you could vote for up to 5 projects. Projects ranged in genres from traffic safety to renovating school gyms and senior centers. As a resident of District 33 I voted at the Greenpoint Library, which was often a polling place. This is a vote that counts for over a million dollars of funding for each district, and it is the most direct way that voting power is employed by a voter.
Prior to and during the voting Council Members Stephen Levin for District 33, Antonio Reynoso for District 34, community organizations, and volunteers have been encouraging their neighbors to vote on projects that will benefit their neighborhoods.
I caught Tevina Willis (Community Organizer from the Office of Council Member Antonio Reynoso) and Laverne Bowman (Participatory Budgeting Volunteer) manning the ballot table at Cooper Park Community Center which was a polling site April 15th. They were very informative and happy to report the day was very successful with over 200 people casting ballots so far. When I told them I was from District 33 they mentioned they might have a ballot for the 33rd, but if not I could get one at CM Reynoso’s office. This cooperativeness between Districts 33 and 34 was further in evidence when CM Antonio Reynoso tweeted on April 19th: “Found a Greenpoint resident and my office brought out the @StephenLevin33 d33 ballot. We all win in PB!”
On April 17th I went to cast my vote at the Greenpoint Library, often a polling place for District 33. There were two lovely and helpful representatives there too: Betty Lester from Council Member Stephen Levin’s office and Alana Contillo from the Progressive Council of the New York City Council. “The turn-out has been very good,” said Betty Lester who also mentioned that she felt people are becoming more and more aware of Participatory Budgeting and that, “it’s good for the community and good for the council members.” Betty has had worked past Participatory Budgeting outings, but this was Alana’s first time. Alana found the experience fascinating how the different neighborhoods had a variety of tactics they used for outreach: for instance in South East Queens they approached people while they were in their cars, brought them coffee, in addition to utilizing the mobile app.
Council Members Stephen Levin and Antonio Reynoso offered some constructive hindsight of 2015’s PB process and their looks forward.
In numerical order, the 33rd’s Council Member Stephen Levin said, “We had a great third year of Participatory Budgeting this year. Participatory Budgeting is making our communities stronger, our government more democratic, and I look forward to seeing this year’s winning projects get implemented throughout the 33rd District.” He also mentioned in an interview that for those who get involved it’s an antidote for the cynicism toward government people can have and that “Hopefully it will continue to grow in new and innovative ways.”
Council Member Antonio Reynoso from District 34 said, “Participatory Budgeting has brought about a new civic energy to District 34. It was incredible to engage with members from all corners of Bushwick and Williamsburg and Ridgewood in Queens, and have them work alongside one another to get proposals on the ballot. Our 17 proposals ranged from playground renovations, increased lighting in NYCHA, improvements to senior centers, sidewalk extensions, upgrades to our public schools, and beautification of parks. I was proud of the hundreds of members that attended our assemblies and the thousands of community members that voted last week. We had many residents who mentioned that this was their first time voting whether because they were 16 years old or because they are simply not eligible to vote in other elections and that was truly gratifying. I look forward to starting back up in the fall!”
If you missed this round, there’s no time like the present to participate in next year’s PB. Look around your neighborhood and see what needs attention or help other initiatives get developed and supported. Keep your eyes open in the fall for when preliminary voting happens to narrow down the projects that will appear on the 2016 ballot.