Launch of PB in New York City!

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Participatory budgeting has arrived in New York City. The PB Project is proud to serve as the lead technical assistance partner for a new $6 million PB process that is starting next month in four City Council districts. City Council Members Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane Williams are each setting aside at least $1 million in capital discretionary funds for residents to allocate.
Over the past several months, the PBP has worked closely with the Council Members, lead community partner Community Voices Heard, and a City-Wide Steering Committee of 40 organizations, to design and plan the process. District Committees in each of the four districts are now planning the opening round of neighborhood assemblies, which will last throughout October.
Volunteer budget delegates, selected at the assemblies, will then meet for 3-4 months to develop final budget proposals. In March 2012, residents in each district will vote on the proposals, and the top vote getters will be included in the city budget for 2013. We expect this pilot process to expand to additional districts and budget pots once the first cycle is complete. For more information, see today’s NY Times article and the PBNYC website, and stay tuned for more updates here.
The full press release is copied below:
Councilmembers and Community Allies Announce Groundbreaking, Democratic Budgeting Initiative
In Four City Council Districts Across New York City, Residents Will Propose and Vote on Capital Projects to be Funded by Members’ Budget
NEW YORK, NY, September 14, 2011: Today, Council Member Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), Council Member Eric Ulrich (R-Queens) and Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), unveiled a new process for budgeting, in which voters in their districts will directly decide how to spend millions of their own tax dollars, a first in New York City.
Through the new initiative, called participatory budgeting, residents will come together in public meetings this fall to discuss local priorities and propose specific infrastructure projects to address the needs of their communities. Community volunteers will finalize proposals and work with city agencies and the council members to estimate costs. Public votes will be held in each district in March, for the residents to decide which projects will be funded. Each council member is reserving at least $1 million in discretionary capital funds for their constituents to allocate.
“We are excited to put budgeting power directly in the hands of the people,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Not only will next year’s budget be more democratic as a result, it will also be more effective – because our constituents know best where money needs to go in our community.”
“As local representatives, we have the ability to do more than just speak for our constituents. We can let them speak for themselves,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Participatory budgeting asks citizens how they want their taxpayer dollars reinvested in our communities, and encourages civic participation across the neighborhoods we represent. It is a real step towards true democracy in our city, and I am excited to bring this process to my district.”
“The message behind participatory budgeting is ‘your money, your vote, your choice,'” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams. “We are empowering the residents of our districts to get educated and engaged in the budgetary process that controls so much of how this city functions from day to day. I believe this will produce a more active electorate that demands more of its elected officials, which is how democracy truly thrives.”
Traditionally, council members and their staff determine how to allocate discretionary capital funding in their districts. This is the first time that these decisions will be made through a vote by residents.
Community organizations from across the city are supporting and advising the participatory budgeting effort.
“Participatory budgeting is important because it expands on our concept of democracy,” said Ann Bragg, Board Member and Leader at Community Voices Heard (CVH). “Many more people are included in this process and the residents come up with the projects. We make the solutions and we make the decisions. I cannot wait to go to the Neighborhood Assemblies to begin working with my community to address our needs.” CVH, a membership organization of low-income New Yorkers, helped bring the idea of Participatory Budgeting to the Council Members and is serving as the Lead Community Engagement partner for the initiative.
“Participatory budgeting offers people a fundamentally different way to engage with government,” said Josh Lerner, Co-Director of The Participatory Budgeting Project, technical support advisor for the initiative. “It lets them directly decide what government does with taxpayer money, rather than just electing politicians to make those decisions for them.”
“Manhattan Community Board 11 is proud to be a part of the Participatory Budgeting Project in New York City,” said Angel Mescain-Archer, Assistant District Manager of Manhattan Community Board 11. “We hope that together with our project partners we can create a successful program that will inspire other communities throughout the city to participate in years to come”.
“Participatory Budgeting is one of the most promising developments in good government to come to New York City in the last decade,” said Morgan Pehme, Executive Director of New York Civic, a good government organization founded by Henry Stern. “It empowers the people to spend their tax dollars on the projects that really mean the most to their communities, while taking the power of the purse out of the hands of the politicians, who all too often wield these monies for self-serving purposes. The four Councilmembers who have signed on to this initiative should be applauded for their courage and commitment to real reform.”
“This is an amazing and unique opportunity to bring decision making on how public money is spent to members of the community. We applaud all the Council members who have committed to participating in this pilot democratic process and look forward to engaging all constituents in their districts.”
– Lucia Gomez, Executive Director, La Fuente-NYCPP
“Participatory budgeting has the potential to significantly shift the relationship between our city and its people. Not only does the process direct resources to where they are most needed, but it provides a new conduit for meaningful interaction between elected officials and their constituents. Bravo!”
– Mel Wymore, Chair, Manhattan Community Board 7

“As a political scientist, I study how Americans have lost trust in our government and its ability to heed their wishes and concerns. Participatory budgeting is an exciting democratic innovation that has helped everyday citizens to connect with their elected officials and really get their voices heard, in hundreds of cities around the world. I’m so excited to be part of it here. It’s a great moment for democratic accountability in New York City.”
– Celina Su, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
“Participatory Budgeting is a tool proven effective to increase informed participation in the public budgeting process, and has real potential to increase democracy in planning and the distribution of public resources in New York City. The initiative deserves full support.”
– Peter Marcuse, Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning, Columbia University
Participatory budgeting originated in Brazil and has proven successful in thousands of cities around the world in recent years. Recently, a city ward in Chicago began allocating discretionary capital funds through participatory budgeting.

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