Decision-making Power over Real Money

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Participatory Budgeting post on the window of Steven Levin's district office.
Participatory Budgeting post on the window of Steven Levin’s district office.


Update: Participatory Budgeting Winning Projects

1st – District-wide tree planting

2nd – MS 8 Technology Funds

3rd – East River State Park Dog Run

4th – PS 31 Technology Request

5th – PS 34 Playground Renovations

Nancy Brown voted for an overpass to make walking safer. Frank Muller voted for new technology funds for a local middle school. And Meryl Blackman voted for a new dog run.

“There should be no neighborhood in New York City without a dog run. It influences the safety of all humans and dogs,” said Blackman, member of a local non-profit organization called Friends of Hillside Dog Park.  

The three were among the local residents of Brooklyn Heights and surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn’s 33rd District who, for the first time, have real decision-making power, through Participatory Budgeting, a program in which residents vote directly to decide how to spend up to $1 million of their council member’s discretionary funding. (District 39—Borough Park, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Cobble Hill and Windsor Terrace—is also voting.)

Eight City Council members are participating this year, with a total amount of more than $10 million, which will apply to the fiscal year 2014.

City Councilman Steven Levin, who represents this district, provided a list of 16 projects for his constituents, including plans of expanding the Independence Senior Kitchen, adding dog run in East River State Park, improving lighting for pedestrian on Atlantic Avenue and buying laptops for MS 8. Each person can vote for up to five projects. [Full List link]

Sixteen sites are open to local residents, three of which are open the entire week, including Levin’s office, the People’s Firehouse in Williamsburg and The Moxie Spot.

The Moxie Spot’s owner, Nat Rubin, is part of the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District, a local organization which proposed the $500,000 Atlantic Avenue Gateway project.

He is a supporter of that project.

“I explain the participatory budgeting to people. It’s hard to choose. I’m interested in getting my project approved, but I also want to be fair. It is a polling site. There are so many other projects also influencing people’s life,” Rubin said.  Since Monday, 75 to 80 people have already cast their votes here.

Nat Rubin explaining projects to local voter.


Lisa Bloodgood, Levin’s community liaison and environmental advisor, said they hope to see more than 1,000 local residents vote.

Nancy Brown, 54, has been living in the Brooklyn Bridge Park Condo for five years. She came to vote for the Atlantic Avenue overpass construction, “because it’s a dangerous area to walk for all the families in the neighborhoods. I’d like more people to come down and use the Brooklyn Bridge Park,” she told The Brooklyn Ink. She also voted to expand the Independent Senior Center Kitchen, which is going to cost $500,000. “There are not enough facilities for seniors in this area,” Brown said.

Frank Muller is filing the voting form and a survey.

Some people see a need of improvement for most of the projects while some have a more specific concern.

Frank Muller, 42, of Brooklyn Heights voted for only one project—MS8 Technology Funds, which will grant the school $200,000 for laptops and smart boards. He said this was a strategic choice to make sure that this project gets approved. One of his two children attends MS8 and the other plans to attend next year. “They started a new school, but the school doesn’t have enough funding to buy computers. Technology is very important for their education,” Muller said.

In 2011, four New York City council members – Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane D. Williams – launched the Participatory Budgeting process to let residents allocate part of their capital discretionary funds. Last year, Stephen Levin, together with three other council members also signed on the list.

Levin’s office received about 300 proposals from individuals and community groups last year. “They were run by the agencies that we are working with. We combined the similar ones, cut off the too expensive ones, and finally distilled those proposals to 16 projects,” Bloodgood said.

All the voting sites will be closed on Sunday, and results are expected to come out next Monday. “Next year will be even better. We found a whole bunch of people say ‘this is so fantastic, I have a project for next year that is ready to go,’” said Bloodgood.

More information about Participatory Budgeting in New York City


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