Participatory budgeting back on track again

The attendees broke down into five groups at five tables to brainstorm about participatory-budgeting project ideas, then rotated from table to table to share ideas. Photos by Levar Alonzo

BY LEVAR ALONZO | An unseasonably balmy second day of fall mixed with excitement over potential community projects made for some great brainstorming on the High Line last Saturday.

City Councilmember Corey Johnson kicked off the fourth straight year of participatory budgeting in his District 3. The initiative gives residents a say in deciding how their tax dollars are spent, by earmarking $1 million in capital funds for projects that are proposed, developed and voted on by community members.

Matt Green, Johnson’s chief of staff, started things off by giving participants a brief overview of what “PB,” as it’s known for short, is all about. To those attending for the first time, he said, “It’s a great way to learn about democracy in action, and be the driving force behind real changes in your community.”

An eager “PB” participant.

As a visual aid, Green brought one of the winning ideas from last year’s process — a project highlighting the need for renovations to the grounds of the Elliott-Chelsea Houses. Other winners last year were planting new trees in the district and a renovated heating and cooling system for the Muhlenberg Library, at W. 23rd St. and Seventh Ave.

One resident wanted to know how much input the councilmember’s office has in the entire initiative.

“We try to stay out of the process,” Green said. “We are just here to facilitate and keep the community informed.”

After watching a short video explaining PB, everyone split up into five groups, rotating between five different tables, in order to share their ideas on projects they think are necessary for their community. Ideas were recorded by Johnson’s aides 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.

Marni Halasa, who is running on the Eco-Justice Party line against Johnson in the Nov. 7 general election, was there to experience PB for herself and pitch some of her ideas for community improvements.

“I just think this is a great process, something that can greatly help with fixing economic inequality in our community,” Halasa said. “PB is something that can help with projects. Young and old can come together to bring about tangible change.”

At the end of the brainstorming session, the ideas from the five tables were presented. Johnson’s staffers wrapped things up with a raffle, with winners snagging PB T-shirts, a guided tour of the High Line and a chance to have coffee with Johnson.