NYC Gives Citizens a Say in the Budget
For the first time in history, some New York City residents have been given the opportunity to be directly involved in allocating the city’s budget—more than $6 million of it. Council members in four districts are trying out participatory budgeting, a grassroots democratic system that allows anyone to present proposals for improvements in their communities. The process fosters transparency, equality, and inclusion, words not always associated with municipal governments.
Council member Brad Lander, whose council district is in Brooklyn, learned about participatory budgeting about a year ago; he’s been anxious to try the process ever since.
a“I instantly thought it would be a great way to get people involved in the process of governing our communities at a time when faith in government is at an all-time low,” Lander says, citing a September poll revealing that only 15 percent of Americans say they trust the federal government most of the time. Lander is committing at least $1 million of discretionary funds for participatory budgeting over the next year.
It has restored faith in government for some New Yorkers who have been involved. Participatory budgeting was first practiced in Brazil in 1989. Today, more than 1,000 places across the world implement participatory budgets, mostly at the municipal level.
“We don’t have many opportunities in New York to actually participate in how the money gets spent,” says Mario Pagano, a 63-year-old Brooklyn resident who’s been involved in the process in Council member Brad Lander’s district. “We don’t ever have a chance to get past the city, the bureaucracy.”
She says participatory budgeting allows for citizens to get past that bureaucracy barrier and feel empowered about ideas and about making a difference in the community. She hopes to see improvements in infrastructure, specifically on roads and at subway stations.
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