By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Residents of City Council District 2 and 4 will be getting a say on how to spend $1 million that’s being allotted to each district, starting this summer.
The opportunity to weigh in on which projects are most important for the community, through a program called participatory budgeting, started citywide in 2011. This year’s cycle is currently underway and the City Council is soliciting suggestions from New Yorkers for “capital” projects, which means proposals that make improvements to physical infrastructure in spaces like city parks, public schools or any other city-owned property. “Expense” projects, which includes ideas like expanded bus service and afterschool programs, are not eligible for participatory budgeting.
City Councilmember Keith Powers is launching participatory budgeting in District 4 (covering Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, Waterside, Midtown East, Central Park South, and the Upper East Side), for the first time, as is Councilmember Carlina Rivera for District 2 (Gramercy, the East Village, Alphabet City and Kips Bay). Neither of their predecessors, Councilmember Dan Garodnick and Councilmember Rosie Mendez, participated in the program previously.
“The process for the last cycle started the year before (I was elected) and if the district didn’t start then, we needed to wait, so this is the first year we could implement it,” Powers said. “There was big growth for it in the last City Council and additional growth in it this year, in districts like this one. All the new members that didn’t have it in their district, Carlina Rivera, other new members in districts where it wasn’t previously offered, are able to take part now.”
Powers said he is encouraging residents to just go nuts with their suggestions for projects.
“People should share anything, the wildest idea in their mind,” Powers said. “We’ll have our volunteers going through all the suggestions so nobody should feel any hesitancy in putting out an idea.”
One thing to keep in mind about the process, though, is that many of the projects may take more than a year to come to fruition and managing expectations will be key, Powers noted.
“We start the process now knowing we’re a few years away from project being realized,” he said. “Projects have to go through approval and design. Even something like a small school improvement has to get approved by School Construction Authority, so it can sometimes take a few years before it shows up in the district.”
Another part of the process once ideas are submitted is going through all of the suggestions and coming up with specific proposals that residents will then vote on. This is a community effort as well, since residents are encouraged to volunteer as budget delegates who will vet the ideas and decide which projects make it onto the ballot.
Powers noted that budget delegate volunteers don’t need to have any specific areas of expertise or understanding of the city’s budget.
“All you need to know is that we’re going to ask for your time and a level of commitment,” he said. “We’re really just looking for motivated people and we’ll provide them with all the necessary information. They just have to be someone who can volunteer a portion of their time and be part of this process, who are going to be committed, have their own ideas about improvements and are interested in improving their community.”
The only specific requirement that Powers noted for volunteers is that they live in the district.
Once the budget delegates narrow down the submitted ideas, residents will get to vote on the proposals in the spring and the winning projects will be announced in May. Powers said that it’s likely that three or four projects total will be picked and funded as part of the budget.
Residents throughout District 2 and 4 have already submitted more than 60 suggestions to the map, covering improvements for streets and sidewalks, parks, transit, public safety, youth and seniors.
One resident suggested an idea just south of East 14th Street in District 2 that would help mitigate the L train shutdown, proposing ferry service and a Citi Bike station near the FDR and East 10th Street. A number of other suggestions for District 2 included improvements for bike lanes in the East Village and new locations for Citi Bike docks.
Powers noted that Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village themselves don’t fall under the purview of participatory budgeting because locations for projects have to be on city-owned property, but he recommended other nearby spots that STPCV residents can suggest for improvements.
“Stuyvesant Cove Park, schools or senior centers in the neighborhood are all places that residents can put on the map,” he said. “Some projects nearby have been put on the website already, like fixing up the gym equipment at Asser Levy.”
Powers will be holding a neighborhood assembly to get ideas from residents and sign up delegate volunteers on the afternoon of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association meeting. An assembly for participatory budgeting will be held in the Podell Auditorium at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, 10 Nathan D. Perlman Place, on Saturday, September 29 at 1 p.m., just before the TA’s meeting at 2 p.m.
Additional neighborhood assemblies will be held on the Upper East Side earlier in the month.
Residents can submit ideas to the map through October 5 by visiting the website.