Participatory Budgeting – “They go low, we go Hy-per local.”

With huge budgets cuts to life-sustaining equity in health, education, and environment happening at the Federal level and anti-diversity sentiments on the rise, participatory budgeting is an opportunity to choose the projects that will give us what we need at the level that most closely touches our day-to-day lives that no one should pass up.

Here’s a fantastic situation: If your council person walked up and gave you the power, what projects would you move to the top of list to receive $1 million of funding in your neighborhood? If you’re a cyclist like me you could probably identify a few stretches of potholes, sketchy intersections, or deteriorating bike lanes that could use a makeover. And if it were safer and easier to cycle in your neighborhood it would be easier to convince more neighbors save dollars in gas, transit cards, and doctor’s visits, right?

Well, guess what! In an increasing amount of U.S. cities the local governments have been doing just that through a citizen-driven mini election process called participatory budgeting.  In NYC where The Brown Bike Girl is based, many of our councilpersons have been giving their districts’ residents the power to use their walking knowledge of the community to suggest, nominate, and then vote for the execution of district projects that the citizens feel most deserve to be funded, created, or improved the districts’ annual funds.

That’s right.  Participatory budgeting moves the money where the citizens say to move the money, and is democracy actually working the way they told it is would in school — No tricky electoral college hiding in the wings.

It so happens that we are on the heels of Vote Week for Participatory Budgeting Cycle 6  in NYC which will run from March 25 – April 2 (New Yorkers find your 2017 district and ballot of local neighborhood projects here.)  And I just want to bring awareness to this particularly powerful tool to change the small things that back a big social punch.

Not a New York City resident? Call your city’s council and inquiry about your local budgeting process and whether you do participatory budgeting? If you want it, request some time with your representative to discuss it.

How does it work?

The types of projects that have won Participating Budgeting include things like…

  • Replacing bleachers at the stadium where the little league plays
  • Buying a van for the senior center
  • New trees and tree guards for more scenic and cooler walking and riding
  • More lights for neighborhood playground safety
  • Countdown clocks for commuter waiting on busses and trains
  • Pedestrian and bike path rehabilitation
  • Installation of book drops at the library

Which means your could ride your bike in the bike path along a comfortably shaded and newly re-striped avenue to the watch the little league game at the stadium with grandma on senior center family day, drop off your library books after hours with no worries, and no exactly when the next train is coming just in case the sunset caught you and you didn’t want to pedal home in the dark, though the neighborhood kids can get in just one more game of kickball because the new playground lights are now on.

Sounds like a beautiful day in the neighborhood, right? And you didn’t even have change your name to Mr. Rogers.

But it all does begin when neighbors like you get aware of what they can make possible and get in where they fit in with this year-round process (see a list of NYC public volunteer roles here ) as well during Vote Week.

NYC volunteer orientations for more information are taking place the week of March 20! Visit the City Council homepage for the link for volunteer applications and schedules.

If you make it out to Vote Week or Orientation, The Brown Bike Girl would love to see your pictures and feature you on the page.  Tag me @thebrownbikegirl on Instagram, or on Facebook with the hastag #brownbikesparticipate for me to see you get your civic participation on!

#bikenyc #brownbikegirl

Want to know more still? Watch Councilman Reynoso from Brooklyn  District 34 give a TEDx talk about how participatory budgeting has changed the way his community engages in an inclusivity.