Chin, Rivera Kick Off Participatory Budgeting Season

Council Members Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera provide the lowdown on PB (Photo by William Engel)
Council Members Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera provide the lowdown on PB (Photo by William Engel)

Participatory budgeting is a process that almost anyone – even minors as young as eleven – can take part in. This was a point that Council Members Margaret Chin (D-Battery Park City, Chinatown) and Carlina Rivera (D-East Village, Gramercy Park) reiterated over and over during last Tuesday’s participatory budgeting meeting. During the introduction, Chin spied a seven-year-old child in the crowd sitting next to her mother.

“The minimum age is eleven,” said Chin. “But since she’s here tonight, we’ll give her a special consideration.”

“Yeah, she can be a PB delegate!” said Rivera, prompting a lighthearted laugh from the audience.

On Sep. 17, Chin and Rivera announced the launch of Participatory Budgeting (PB) in New York City Council Districts One and Two. The announcement took place at 6 p.m. at the Henry Street Settlement Gym, 301 Henry St.

The event had Chin, Rivera and their staff members summarize the concept. PB is a year-long process in which community members decide how to spend a portion of the public budget. Its purpose is to encourage the community to be civically active and to foster improved communication between electeds and their constituents.

This will be Rivera’s second year as a participant in the PB cycle.

“Participatory budgeting represents local democracy at its best,” said Chin. “Thanks to participatory budgeting, New Yorkers as young as 11 will have a chance to engage further in our democratic process. Over the next several months, I will be hard at work ensuring that every corner of this incredible community has a voice at each stage of this project.”

The first phase, lasting from September to October, is the “idea collection” phase, during which community members can freely pitch their ideas. This is also the phase where the Council recruits volunteers to assist them during the process.

During the second phase, which lasts until January, volunteer workers known as budget delegates choose the ideas they like best and develop them into fully-fledge proposals. Each project must cost between $50,000 and $1,000,000 and have a lifespan of at least five years.

“Last year, we were thinking of buying more science mobile carts for P.S. 34,” said Ivy Rosado, Rivera’s Director of Outreach and Participatory Budgeting. “That wasn’t necessarily an idea that was initially like that. Initially, it was ‘we want to provide more science equipment to each school’. How do we do that? We couldn’t build a whole classroom, since that would cost close to a million dollars. So after figuring out what our options were, we decided science mobile carts were the way we wanted to go.”

Afterwards, the Council brings the proposals to a vote, which lasts one week. The winning proposals enter the “evaluation and planning” stage, during which the Council lays out a plan for setting the proposals into motion.

“It’s a big deal, venturing into participatory budgeting,” said Rivera. “But I don’t want to scare anyone, because even though it’s a lot of work, it’s also a lot of fun. It’s just being out there, talking to people and letting them know that this is their chance to get people involved as young as eleven years old – and I think that’s what’s the most exciting. I’ve had amazing conversations with twelve and thirteen-year-olds who were very thoughtful and very considerate.”

Chin’s office will be holding two pop-up events to collect ideas in October. The first will be on Oct. 3 from 3-6 p.m. at Manhattan Youth, 120 Warren St.