Councilman Brad Lander of the 39th Council District
What to do with a $1 million dollars? That was the question yesterday evening as many in the community gathered at PS 59 to take part in a neighborhood assembly hosted by Councilman Brad Lander to discuss and to identify neighborhood needs.
What is participatory budgeting? It is a process by which members of the community directly decide how to spend part of the public budget. The idea was first developed in Brazil in 1989 and is now used in many municipalities around the world.
Here in the United States, only the 49th Ward in Chicago has implemented the idea. In 2011-2012, four New York City Council districts are taking part in a pilot initiative, each setting aside at least $1million dollars of their discretionary funds. The 39th Council District, which goes through Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, the Columbia Waterfront, Gowanus, , Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington and Borough Park, is one of those four.
"This is real grass-roots democracy," Brad Lander told the assembly last night. "We are trying something new. This is a way to work together, identify what your community needs and turn the ideas into real projects."
After a presentation on participatory budgeting, there was a short Q & A session. Those in attendance then broke out into groups to come up with capital project ideas.
Afterwards, each group reported back the results.
Here are just some of the ideas for our own community:
*Green roofs for school
*Traffic calming measures on Hicks Street
*Art installation under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway
*School playground bubbles for winter recess
*Nature refuge along the Gowanus Canal
*Accessible meeting space for community groups in Carroll Gardens library's basement
*And last but not least, most groups mentioned the needs for more garbage and recycling bins on busy commercial strips like Court Street and Smith Street.
It is always a good thing when residents get together and involved. Participatory budgeting does give the community a stake and encourages the democratic process. However, $1 million dollars out of the $3 million discretionary fund available to our Councilman is not very much at all, especially when split between the 8 neighborhoods (and Prospect Park) in the district.
One has to wonder if the money will just be enough to buy a few new public garbage cans for each of those neighborhoods. Not that it would be a bad thing and I don't mean to sound cynical, but last night seemed a bit silly and a bit like a re-election effort.