Six Projects Will Split $1.54M in Participatory Budgeting Process

By Jeff Mays on April 3, 2012 5:26pm 

"This is really about giving people the faith and hope that government can respond to you," said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who declined to cast a ballot herself or reveal her favorite projects for fear of influencing the process. "It's been really great to see the level of engagement."
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — A handful of projects, including increased security for public housing and the construction of a headquarters for community organization Harlem RBI, are set to split a $1.54 million pot of cash as part of the city's first participatory budgeting process.

More than 1,000 people weighed in on how to spend the money from the discretionary budget of East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito.

The pot was initially $1 million but Mark-Viverito added another $500,000 from the discretionary budget. And instead of five winning projects, there were six in the end.

"We feel both humbled and honored to have won. Humbled because the community chose us from many worthy and important projects also in the running, honored because it's always a privilege to get to do the work that you're passionate about," said Harlem RBI Executive Director Rich Berlin, who will receive $250,000 to help with construction of new office space on East 103rd Street and Second Avenue in conjunction with the group's new charter school building.

In addition to the security cameras for public housing throughout Mark-Viverito's district, the cash will also go toward playground improvements at Millbrook in the Bronx and Douglass Houses in Manhattan Valley; a van to provide senior transportation and Meals on Wheels delivery; purchase of laptops and other equipment for the Aquilar Branch of the public library on 110th Street; and a 3D ultrasound system for Metropolitan Hospital.

The winners were chosen from 29 projects, culled from a larger list of ideas put together by community assemblies.

Mark-Viverito called the process "true democracy in action."

"It's a way of engaging people in the civic process," Mark-Viverito said.

There are more than 1,200 cities that use participatory budgeting around the world, including Chicago, Montreal and Toronto, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project.

Councilmen Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn and Eric Ulrich of Queens are also using the participatory-budgeting process in their home districts.

The Harlem RBI project includes the charter school, 89 units of affordable housing, a headquarters for the group on what is now a parking lot at the New York City Housing Authority's Washington Houses in East Harlem. It also includes the renovation of Blake Hobbs Park.

Berlin said the money for the headquarters will help the group, which serves 1,200 kids in sports and academic enrichment programs, "continue to do our work here in East Harlem."

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