In the bureaucracy that is NYC government, individual residents and their wish lists often get lost.
Now, those wishes can be granted. Would you want a playground or new technology at your child’s school? Are you interested in a dog run in the park, a fixed roof for the library, or upgrades to a senior center? What about better street lighting, sidewalks, or wheelchair ramps?
Residents have a chance to get their interests and needs placed on ballots and voted on through the City Council’s participatory budgeting process. Top vote-getters have started to see their hopes become reality. For New York City, it’s a stunning grassroots effort that cuts through layers of red tape to actually get things done — just by asking.
But it’s optional; just over half of City Council members participate in the program. And that has to change.
Each of the 51 council members gets $5 million a year to dole out in capital funding for their districts. Those who adopt participatory budgeting set aside at least $1 million for that process. Residents can share ideas at open meetings or online. The proposals that gain the most traction are placed on a ballot, with the funding needed for each. Then, anyone from the district who is at least 14 years old can vote and the winning projects move forward.
But for the program to be truly successful, every council member should participate. There are too many who don’t. Some point to the staff, time, energy and effort required, or say they know their districts’ needs best. Neither is a valid reason, especially now that much of the paperwork is done centrally.
Others worry that only projects backed by loud voices would get funded. But council members can avoid that by setting priorities, by knowing what’s important and by reaching out to everyone.
This isn’t as easy as rubbing a lamp and finding a genie. But communities without participatory budgeting lose their voice. The city should make the $1 million pot only available to those council members who participate.
Then, the program will spread and more wishes citywide might come true.