Participatory Budgeting Experiment Enters the Home Stretch

Participatory Budgeting Experiment Enters the Home Stretch

March 21, 2012 at 4:00 am

Residents in the 39th Council District in Brooklyn deliberate over proposals. Photo courtesy of the Office of Council Member Brad Lander.

Voters will soon judge New York City’s first experiment in participatory budgeting:  between March 25 and April 1, residents in the four participating New York City Council districts will cast their votes on the capital projects they deem most important for their community.

The four Council Members involved — Brad Lander (District 39), Jumaane Williams (District 45), Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8) and Eric Ulrich (District 32)— shared the projects that will be voted on with MetroFocus.

Over the last six months, thousands of resident volunteers have met to identify and discuss potential projects, and each of the council district groups has honed their lists to 15-20 eligible projects.

Who can vote?

Anyone who is 18-years-old and resides in one of the districts, regardless of voter registration or immigration status.

The Council Members have pledged approximately $1 million from their capital budget;  these funds are dispersed through their discretionary budgets and are allocated by the Council Speaker each budget cycle.

The point of participatory budgeting is that district residents decide how to spend $1 million dollars, not the Council Members. This kind of democratic process began in 1989  in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and has since spread to roughly 1,000 cities worldwide.  How many New Yorkers can join this experiment?  While 6.4 million are 18 and older, these four districts combined are home to 478,000 of them.

Participatory budgeting delegates debate proposals in Kensington, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of the Office of Council Member Brad Lander.

“This process opened my eyes, and allowed me to meet and talk with people I never would have met before,” said Agnes Rivera, 61, a Harlem resident and former human resources administrator who was actively involved with the participatory budgeting process in District 8.  Ms. Rivera  is a member of Community Voices Heard, a group that works to improve the lives of people on welfare and in low-income communities.  She added,  “We as a people get to make the decisions about what needs to get done in our communities.”

Christine Petro, 31, commutes to Harlem to work in the education division of the Abyssinian Development Corporation and joined the District 39 group so she could get involved where she lives, in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn.

“I was not so familiar with my own neighborhood, and I wanted to learn a little bit more and get more connected,” said Petro, who wants to fund a neighborhood compost processor near the Gowanus Canal.  Petro said being heavily involved in participatory budgeting took a lot of time and effort, but it was worth it.

“It’s definitely changed my perspective about what I can do and what’s possible,” she said.

When we checked in with the Council Members in December, we heard some of the “quirkiest” and “boldest” ideas put forth by residents, and some of those projects have made the final list.  (Perhaps not surprisingly, the Gowanus Canal gondola, called the “Gowandola,” didn’t make the cut.)

Voting locations and sample ballots are available on the Participatory Budgeting NYC website.

Council Member Brad Lander, Democrat for the 39th District
The 39th District covers many South Brooklyn neighborhoods including Park Slope, Kensington, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Gowanus.

Bathroom Renovation for the Children of PS 124
JHS 62 media center upgrade for journalism program
PS 131 Auditorium Project
PS 39 Cafeteria Soundproofing Project
Technology: A Better Future for PS 154 / PS 130 Students
Brooklyn Neighbors Composting
Body Weight Fitness Equipment Area
District 39 Tree Planting
Pigeon Plaza Greenstreet Rehabilitation
Prospect Park Pedestrian Pathway Rehabilitation
50th Street Repaving Project
Pedestrian Hazards at the Prospect Expressway
Intersection Safety Improvements
BusTime “count-down” clocks
Help Points at F/G Subway Stations
Flowers: First Fix For Flooding at Ft Hamilton F/G

Council Member Eric Ulrich, Republican for the 32nd District
The 32nd District includes parts of the Queens waterfront and the neighborhoods Breezy Point, Rockaway Beach, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Woodhaven, among others.

Gazebo/Bandstand/Outdoor Performance Space on Shorefront Parkway
Knights of Columbus, Rockaway Council—Handicapped Bathroom Upgrade
Library Renovation/Upgrade at Peninsula Branch
Library Vending Machine in Breezy Point
Technology Upgrades at PS47, PS317/MS318, PS114
Six Argus Security Cameras for100th Precinct
Five ATV Vehicles for 100th Precinct
Cascade (Oxygen Refill) System for Volunteer Fire Departments
Pagers for Four Volunteer Fire Departments
Water Pump for Volunteer Fire Departments to Alleviate Flooding
Dog Run at Shorefront Parkway and Beach 93rd Street
Additional Trash Receptacles along Boardwalk (Beach 73rd-126th Streets) and at Parks in Broad Channel
Playground Safety Resurfacing at Beach 74th Street and Beach 107th Street Playgrounds
Seven Shade Structures at 17th Road Park in Broad Channel and along Boardwalk/Shorefront Parkway
Water Installation at Freeway Dog Park
Year Round Heated Bathroom and Changing Station at Beach 86th Street on Boardwalk


Northhattan reporter Ben Teitelbaum attends a participatory budgeting assembly meeting for seniors in East Harlem and talks with residents about the needs in their communities. Vimeo/ BenTeitelbaum

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Democrat for the 8th District
The 8th District covers parts of Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx, primarily East Harlem and Mott Haven.

Installation of Security Cameras at the Jefferson Houses
Playground Improvements at the Millbrook Community CenterOff-Grid Solar Powered Greenhouse at Millbrook Houses 
Designated BBQ Area at Millbrook Houses
Security Upgrades at UPACA Senior Center
Roof Repairs at UPACA Senior Center
Transportation for Meals-on-Wheels Delivery Van
Viaduct Lighting along Park Avenue viaduct from 102nd Street to 110th Street
Renovate & Improve Outdoor Seating Area at Gaylord White Senior Center
Lights at Jefferson Park
Skate Park at Jefferson Park
Theatre Upgrade at Children’s Aid Society/Fredrick Douglass Center
Construction of a Headquarters for Harlem RBI School and Dream Charter School
Pothole Repairs on First and Second avenues
New Technology for NYPL Aguilar Branch
10 Smartboards, 25 Desktop computers and carts for 30 laptops for Central Park East High School
150 new laptops, 5 laptop carts, 6 new projectors and 6 new printers for Renaissance Charter HS for Innovation
Replacement of 100 seats in the school’s auditorium, 20 seats in the music rooms and stairwell banisters at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics High School
105 laptop computers, 3 carts to store the laptops and 65 smart boards for Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics HS Technology
3 laptop carts, 90 laptops, 3 new printers and a new smart board for Mott Hall II
Air-Conditioned Gymnasium for P.S. 163
Science Lab for P.S. 171
30 computers, 100 laptops with carts, 4 printers and 10 Smart Boards for Young Women’s Leadership School
Regrading the sports field in Poor Richard’s Playground
Upgrades to the Jefferson Park Dog Run
Renovation of the Booker T. Washington basketball court
Renovation of the basketball court at Douglass Houses Stadium Court
10-Foot Pollution Barrier Wall at PS 206 Playground
Ultrasound for Metropolitan Hospital Center

Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Democrat for the 45th District
The 45th District covers the central Brooklyn neighborhoods of Flatbush and Flatlands, and parts of Canarsie and Midwood.

Community Resource Center for Job Development and Programming in East Flatbush
Update the HVAC System at the Clarendon Library
Air Conditioning at PS 198
E-Tech campus for non-profit community organization CAMBA  
E-Tech campus at PS 181 
E-Tech campus at PS 109
Green Marketplace at Midwood High School
Security Cameras
Lighting in Parks
Sidewalk Bump-Outs
Field Lights at Tilden Educational Campus Field
Performing Arts Studio at Tilden Educational Campus Field
Track Extension at Tilden Educational Campus Field


Participatory budgeting is explained step-by-step by the International Studies Film Collective of Marymount Manhattan College. YouTube/ ISfilmcollective