Reynoso Hosts District 34 Participatory Budgeting Meeting

Attendees at a participatory budgeting meeting for the 34th City Council District

Brooklyn’s 34th District is gearing up for its fourth year of participatory budgeting, which has the potential to be the city’s most fruitful to date.

Antonio Reynoso
City Council Member Antonio Reynoso

The district held a participatory budgeting meeting last night at the Brooklyn Public Library at 790 Bushwick Ave, lead by Councilman Antonio Reynoso‘s (D-Williamsburg,Bushwick) Chief of Staff Jennifer Gutierrez. Among the night’s attendees were representatives from Community Board 4 and the human rights institution El Puente de Williamsburg.

The participatory budgeting program is a year-long cycle in which community members vote on how to spend a set portion of a public budget. It was first introduced in New York in 2011.

Last year’s cycle was a rousing success, with over $36 million allocated towards 122 funded projects across the city. District 34 received $1.3 million to invest in four winning projects, among them a computer lab upgrade for P.S. 299 and the construction of a hydroponic farm at P.S. 274.

Jennifer Gutierrez leading a meeting on Participatory Budgeting for the 34th City Council District. Picture by William Engle.

“Participatory budgeting opens up government,” said Gutierrez. “It makes it so you have direct access to your city council members, and it’s expanding civic engagement. Two years ago I had someone, an American citizen, vote for the first time ever in participatory budgeting. They had never even voted in a local election here.”

This year, 32 council districts across all five boroughs will be taking part in participatory budgeting – the largest class since the program began, and a considerable step up from the previous year, in which 27 participated.

The city is currently in the first stage of the budgeting cycle, during which ideas are brainstormed. After explaining what projects are and aren’t eligible for participatory budgeting, Gutierrez encouraged the audience to throw out as many ideas as they could.

Cirilo Nunez, representing Community Board 4, was the first to pose a suggestion: an increase in signage around the district reminding passersby to pick up trash and clean up after their dogs.

“We used to have signs in the city, saying that you could be fined up to x amount of dollars [for littering],” said Nunez. “But now that I’m a homeowner, I fantasize having… if not those, at least something positive educating them about the community and encouraging them to keep it clean. I see these trash cans on the corners, but it just doesn’t occur to people that they should deposit it into the trash bin.”

Among the other ideas pitched at the meeting were the construction of a multi-purpose literary center at P.S. 319, the renovation of a gym at Bushwick Leaders High School, and the construction of a bus shelter on the corner of Bushwick and DeKalb.

Mary McClellan, also representing Community Board 4, commended the other attendees – particularly the teens and young adults – for showing up and voicing their ideas.

“I have been in this neighborhood for a long time, and I like to see all these young people coming into the meeting,” said McClellan. “Because, you see, the old people don’t come, so their ideas are there, but they never get heard.”

Another participatory budgeting assembly for Brooklyn’s 34th is scheduled for this Monday at 6:30 p.m., at Borinquen Plaza.