On a Hot High Line Afternoon, Participatory Budgeting Gathers Steam

Matt Green, deputy chief of staff to Councilmember Johnson, answered questions about Participatory Budgeting. Behind him are posters promoting two of last year’s winners — ground renovations at the Elliott-Chelsea Houses and improvements to Bleecker Street Playground. Photo by Levar Alonzo.

BY LEVAR ALONZO | An unseasonably balmy second day of fall, mixed with excitement in the air, made for great community brainstorming on the afternoon of Sat., Sept. 23. Council District 3 representative Corey Johnson held the “Year 4 Kickoff” event for Participatory Budgeting (PB), an initiative which gives residents a hand in deciding how their tax dollars are spent by setting aside $1 million in capital funds for projects proposed, developed, and voted for by community members.

Matt Green, Councilmember Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, started the event (held on the High Line) by giving a brief overview of what PB is all about. The process, he noted, is “a great way to learn about democracy in action, and be the driving force behind real changes in the community.”

As a visual aid, Green brought along a poster that was used to campaign for one of the winning ideas from last year: $500,000 to renovate playground fencing, walkways, and garden areas at the Elliott-Chelsea Houses (10 Ave.,. btw. W. 26th & 27th Sts.). Four projects in all were funded, with the top vote-getter providing $200,000 for the creation of a park in Hell’s Kitchen (10th Ave., btw. W. 48th & 49th Sts.).

Judith Dahill, a librarian from the High School of Fashion Industries on W. 24th St., wants to build a green roof on top of the building. She said it would capture rain, provide insulation for the school, and attract birds, bees, and butterflies. She added that the project would help improve air quality. Photo by Levar Alonzo.

A member of the audience wanted to know how much input the councilmember’s office has throughout the process of brainstorming and voting.

“We are just here to facilitate and keep the community informed,” Green said.

After watching a short video explaining PB, those assembled broke down into five groups that rotated between five different tables, in order to share their ideas on projects they think are necessary for their community. Ideas were taken down by volunteers and representatives from the councilmember’s office on their iPads and made ready for online viewing.

Residents were encouraged to develop more proposals, get their neighbors involved, and volunteer to be delegates (individuals who help facilitate the PB process), and take leadership roles at events like project expos.

The Youth Committee would like to see a rooftop garden at The James Baldwin School on W. 18th St., a new youth center on W. 25th St., and a filtered water system at the NYC Museum School on W. 17th St. Photo by Levar Alonzo.

At the end of the brainstorming session, the ideas from the five tables were presented and the councilmember staffers wrapped up the event with a raffle, giving away PB T-shirts, a guided tour of the High Line, and a chance to have coffee with Johnson.

The period to submit ideas is open until Oct. 13, after which the ideas are developed into full proposals and reviewed by delegates in a series of expos held through February 2018. Voting takes place April 7-17, 2018. The winning projects will be announced in May. To submit ideas, visit council.nyc.gov/pb/participate. To contact Councilmember Johnson’s office, visit council.nyc.gov/district-3/ or call 212-564-7757.

New to the Participatory Budgeting process, Steven Woloshin would like to see money go toward benches, tables, plants, and fountains in Hell’s Kitchen Park (10th Ave., btw. W. 47th & 48th Sts.). Photo by Levar Alonzo.


Maria Useche wanted District 3 to look into new technology involving bacteria that can be used to help fix cracks in streets. Useche will have another chance to make her pitch — as the raffle winner who gets to have coffee with Councilmember Johnson. Photo by Levar Alonzo.


Jon Nalley wants to see PS 33 Chelsea Prep (on W. 26th St.) used as a focal point for the community. “The school is in a neighborhood that is cross culture and cross economics,” he noted, “and it could act as an avenue to bring people together from Fulton, Elliott, Penn South houses and London Terrace.” Photo by Levar Alonzo.


Anna Allen, a veteran of Participatory Budgeting, sees this process as a way to build equality in the community. “The entire process is a great way people can impact the changes and needs within their respective communities,” she said. Photo by Levar Alonzo.


Residents of District 3 listened as a video explained the impact they can have from being involved in Participatory Budgeting. Photo by Levar Alonzo.