The city’s participatory budgeting process, which pools public opinion on what to do with capital dollars, has returned after a 2-year suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year marks its 12th cycle. 

Participatory budgeting essentially gives community members over 11 years old the opportunity to submit and share ideas, and then ultimately vote on which physical infrastructure projects receive money. This year, 28 council members are asking residents how to spend at least $28 million in funds. Ideas center around anything from schools, parks, and libraries to public housing, said city council. 

“It is always critical that we strengthen local civic participation and engagement,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams in a statement. “As we begin the process of collecting ideas and crafting projects, I encourage all New Yorkers to get involved in participatory budgeting and share your input on community priorities.”

The city hopes the collaborative process will engage people who have historically been underrepresented. 

The process’s democratic roots actually stem from Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. A majority of the city’s resident’s wrestled with poverty, homelessness, and hunger in isolated slums without access to clean water, sanitation, medicine, or schools. South Brazilians were able to combat these “extreme disparities in income and quality of life” in their communities and bridge the wealth gap when participatory budgeting was implemented. Other nations were so inspired by the success of community involvement in the budgeting process that over 5,500 municipalities adopted it.

In 2011, then-councilmembers Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane D. Williams brought the process to New York City. 

“I was among the first council members to pioneer participatory budgeting—where everyone votes on the future of their community, without age or status as an obstacle,” said now-Public Advocate Jumaane Williams in a statement. “I’m excited to see participatory budgeting expand to the entire city so that all New Yorkers can experience on-the-ground democracy at the most local level. Experts in our neighborhoods—the people who live, work, and raise families in New York City—will now have a direct say in how public money is spent in their communities.”

The participatory budgeting process starts with idea generation sessions across the five boroughs in an effort to give New Yorkers the opportunities to brainstorm ideas for creative projects. Idea sessions, which began Sept. 19, go from September to October. Then budget delegates will be appointed. 

From October to January 2023, delegates narrow down proposals and select projects. From March 25 to April 2, 2023, delegates and residents prepare for a 9-day community vote. And then from May to June next year, the winning project is included in the fiscal year budget. 

“Civic participation fosters greater faith in government and a deeper desire to help one’s community,” said Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar. “Citywide participatory budgeting takes civic participation to unprecedented heights, for the first time giving all New Yorkers the power of the purse to develop their own solutions to the challenges they face. I have so many constituents who will love joining the participatory budget process, from the idea generation stage, all the way to implementation, and know it will inspire many more to have their first meaningful engagement with their government.”

Last Wednesday, Mayor Eric Adams also spoke about a citywide participatory budgeting initiative called The People’s Money. The budget is capped at $5 million of “mayoral expense funding” that people voted on how to spend, said the mayor’s office.

The mayor’s office said that traditionally participatory budgeting in the city was only available to residents if their council members opted their district in, but in November 2018 people voted on three ballot initiatives proposed by the 2018 Charter Revision Commission that mandated a citywide system. Those projects will be developed into ballot proposals, which will be voted on by residents in each borough. Winning projects will then be implemented starting in 2024.

“Creating the first-ever citywide participatory budgeting process through the Civic Engagement Commission is a win for the community and keeps them both connected and engaged so that they know and have a say in where their tax dollars are,” said Adams in a statement. “This initiative shows how being inclusive and open can yield results through strong civic engagement.”

Go to council.nyc.gov/pb/ to get involved!

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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