Participatory Budgeting in New York City

By Nikita Singareddy

This Tuesday, Roosevelt and the Office of New York City Council Member Mark Levine held an event on Participatory Budgeting. Amy Slattery, District 7’s Legislative and Budget Director, presented about the process itself and how it has evolved in NYC. Since its start in Brazil in 1989, there are now over 1,500 participatory budgets around the world.  In the last few years, PB has flourished in New York City, directly engaging community members in proportioning over 25 million dollars through public proposals and open vote budget decisions.

PB lets the whole community participate directly in how to spend part of the public budget. Slattery spoke about the yearlong process, starting from the development of proposals in public assemblies to decision-making in delegate committees and finally the voting process. Unlike conventional voting methods, voting on PB projects is open to anyone over the age of 14 living in the district regardless of citizenship. Consequently, it gives tangible power to community members, especially those never before involved in the political process.

Of particular importance is the type of discretionary funding that the City Council Members can allocate towards PB. There are two types of discretionary funds: expense funds that are used to pay for salaries and services and capital funds for physical infrastructure. Presently, PBNYC deals solely with “bricks and mortar” projects. That means Mr. Levine’s office and District 7 community members can only navigate projects like improvements to schools, parks, libraries, public housing, and other public or community spaces.

In break out circles following the presentation, we discussed what role Columbia students can play in PB, given its already privileged position in District 7. Some individuals further recognized the potential limitations of the equitable public spending initiative. Does PB attract those who are already politically active in the community, crowding out other quieter voices? Can PB only work fruitfully in dense areas like New York City and Boston? Across the board, attendees championed PB’s targeted public assemblies. District 7 has held PB meetings specifically for the youth, formerly incarcerated, elderly, and Spanish-speaking community members, enfranchising and harnessing ideas from groups that are traditionally less civically engaged.

We’d like to thank the Office of New York City Council Member Mark Levine for making this meeting such a success. If you would like to get involved in participatory budgeting in District 7 – or if you’re just curious to learn more – please reach out to Amy Slattery: ASlattery@council.nyc.gov

Read coverage of the event in Spec:     http://columbiaspectator.com/news/2015/02/27/students-question-own-role-participatory-budgeting