PB + Bureaucratic Jams

Voting for participatory budgeting starts in 32 City Council districts tomorrow. In each of those districts, voters will decide how they want to spend $1 million of the City Council’s budget. But as Camille Petersen finds, democracy is complicated.

 

 

PETERSEN 1: The participatory budgeting expo in Chelsea looks like a science fair. Community members set up three-paneled poster boards on round tables. And as their neighbors circulate, they pitch their projects to them.

 

Phyllis Wayzman is pitching a few projects — improved park paths, better lighting for NYCHA parks, and repairing a playground’s sprinkler system. This is her fifth year working with participatory budgeting.

 

WAYZMAN 1

Oh! It’s the most democratic process there is because the ideas start with the

district, with the community. (0:07)

 

PETERSEN 2: But she says participatory budgeting comes with limitations. To even get on the ballot, projects need to be approved by the city.

 

WAYZMAN 2

You’re dealing with city agencies when you go through the vetting process and they have a lot of do’s and dont’s. (0:06)

 

PETERSEN 3: Then, the projects have to get enough votes to win funding. After that, the winners are handed over to city bureaucracy.

 

Lou Berta (BUR-ta) has voted on projects in Chelsea for a few years. He’s keeping his eye on a $500,000 project to turn an empty lot into a park. It was approved in 2016.

 

BERTA 1

So I’m looking to see where that’s gonna be spent. I’ve been bringing it up in some of our resident association meetings. But I’ve been told it’s coming. (0:07)

 

PETERSEN 6: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea, agrees the long wait times are a problem.

 

JOHNSON 1

It’s one thing we hear not just on participatory budgeting but we hear on any

project that’s being built in New York City. (0:06)

 

PETERSEN 4: City data shows that of the participatory budget projects approved between 2012 and 2017, only 8 percent have been COMPLETED. After projects win enough votes to get funding, they go through lengthy construction and approval processes within city agencies.

 

Hollie Russon-Gilman researches participatory budgeting at Columbia University. She says voters learn a lot about the challenges and frustrations of city government through participatory budgeting.

 

RUSSON-GILMAN 1

Often people are like oh wow that’s more expensive than I thought. Or that takes

longer than I thought. They get to see how the sausage is made. And that is for

better and for worse. (0:09)

 

PETERSEN 5: Even though Lou Berta (BUR-ta) is still waiting for that half million dollar project to happen, he’s planning to vote on new projects this year. But he won’t reveal his favorites.

 

BERTA 2

I’m gonna be a politician right now. I’m not even gonna dare say what I’ve seen

so far. (0:05)

 

PETERSEN 9: Voting starts tomorrow and ends April 7th.

 

Camille Petersen, Columbia Radio News.

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