Column: What would you do with $1M? 

pierina Sanchez
City Councilmember Pierina Sanchez focuses on participatory budgeting for his district’s constituents.
Photo William Alatriste/NYC Council Media Unit

Hello my people! Welcome back to “Sanchez Te Cuenta,” my column where I, Council Member Pierina Sanchez, share updates on District 14 priorities, citywide concerns and current happenings. I use this platform to write about the many issues impacting our city, from the perspective of a Bronx-born and raised urban planner and elected official. I know, it has been a while. I am happy to report I am a new mom! Now, I am back and ready to be in conversation with my Bronx people.

Last column, I spoke about the source of income (SOI) discrimination, what it is and mechanisms to protect our community from egregious landlords. You have options to report SOI discrimination; call 311, email us at [email protected] and we will be sure to get back to you.

In this column, I want to share how you can decide how to invest $1 million in your community – yes, you read that correctly! The way to do this is through participatory budgeting, and this year, depending on where you are in the Bronx, you have an opportunity to engage in two different processes: one by your local councilmember (if applicable), and the other by the city! Let’s get into it.

Picture it: It’s 1989, and we are in Porto Alegre, Brazil. We are having the time of our lives because the Workers Party won the Porto Alegre municipal elections, which then begins the evolution of more civic participation in the city’s budget and economic projects. One way to do this was to create a democratic process in which every single resident has the opportunity to directly inform how and where money gets spent within their particular sector. Elected officials designed participatory budgeting to strike a balance between the traditional institutions of representative electoral democracy and the participation of members of the public in the political decision-making process – this is what our government should be about. Fast forward to 2011, four councilmembers began this process here in New York in 2011, and this year, 30 city councilmembers will launch participatory budgeting within their district, including mine, for the second year in a row!

So now that we know that participatory budgeting in NYC empowers you, where do we start? ¡Deja que te cuente! The process starts with each councilmember announcing that participatory budgeting will be active within their district this year. Follow your local councilmember to see their announcements. After the launch, we begin collecting ideas from you all and what you would like to see in your district via online form, within the district offices or by visiting pbnyc.org. This is one of the most fun parts, because you can submit any ideas that would benefit the public. Here’s the rub: because we are allocating capital dollars, the project must cost at least $50,000 and have a lifespan of at least 5 years – ideas can include local improvements to schools, parks, libraries, public housing, streets and other public spaces. While there are parameters, you really have an opportunity to propose as many ideas as you have. From there, a team of delegates, or local volunteers, will oversee the entire process to ensure community input, review the ideas and work with city agencies to arrive at a shortlist of the most feasible projects and transform each into a fully-realized proposal. From there, a nine-day voting process will commence. During this time, anyone who works or lives within that district can vote for a number of projects that cost up to $1 million. After all the winning projects are announced, they are then added to the city’s next fiscal year budget.

Earlier this year, I conducted my first round of participatory budgeting as a councilmember, where we funded technology for teaching supplies and improvements to some of our local parks and gardens. I am very excited for the other ideas my district will come up with. Read more here.

Pierina Sanchez is a member of the New York City Council representing the 14th District and the communities of Kingsbridge, Fordham, University Heights, Mount Eden and Mount Hope. To read her last column click here

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