Thousands of New Yorkers Take a Direct Role in City’s Budget Process
by Scott Klinger, 4/23/2015
Last week, thousands of New York City residents completed an eight month-long participatory budget process in which they voted on how to allocate $25 million of their taxes in their communities. The city first experimented with participatory budgeting in 2011 when four City Council members allowed their constituents to decide how to use $1 million in discretionary funds provided by the city on community projects in their wards. This time around, 24 of New York City’s 51 Council members joined in the effort.
Participants start learning about the budget process in the fall and begin educating one another on various projects to be considered for funding. Through the winter, teams of community members turn ideas into full-fledged proposals, which are then exhibited at neighborhood expos that take place in February and March. In April, all participants in the ward get to vote on how to allocate available funding between projects. Nearly 50,000 New Yorkers cast ballots in the voting process this year.
"Participatory budgeting is one of our city’s most powerful tools to increase engagement and civic participation for communities who are so often voiceless when it comes to public money and community development."
-New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito
Participants represented the rich diversity of New York: two-thirds were women, and more than a third were born outside the United States. Half earned less than $50,000. The process welcomes young New Yorkers, with those 16 and over able to participate city-wide, and citizens as young as 14 can have a say in a few districts. Voting materials are prepared in ten languages.
New York is one of 1,500 cities around the world to engage in participatory budgeting programs. The idea originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where today, more than 50,000 citizens participate every year.
Does participatory budgeting make a difference in how people see their government? You bet. “Participatory budgeting is one of our city’s most powerful tools to increase engagement and civic participation for communities who are so often voiceless when it comes to public money and community development. From start to finish, participatory budgeting enables residents to creatively propose solutions to real community concerns – whether it is a new playground, elevator repairs in public housing, or state-of-the art technology for local schools,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told CityLimits.org.
In addition to New York City, Boston, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Chicago also have participatory budgeting programs that allow citizens to help decide how their tax money is spent in their communities. For a map showing other U.S. and Canadian cities involved in participatory budgeting, click here.
For more information on New York City’s participatory budgeting program, click here.