UPPER EAST SIDE — New playground equipment at the Stanley Isaacs Houses, handrails that will help seniors navigate the steps at Carl Schurz Park, and an updated cooling system at the 67th Street Library where many people take refuge during the hot summer months.
All of these proposals could go from wish list to reality through Councilman Ben Kallos’s participatory budgeting program.
The program gives community members the chance to decide how to spend $1 million of Kallos’s discretionary funds for community capital improvements. This marks the first time District 5 will participate in the program, which started in New York City in 2011.
“Most people’s idea of democracy is that they come out and vote every few years for someone who makes a few promises and either keeps them or doesn’t,” Kallos said at a recent public information session. “I think this will be a very satisfying process because people will really see the fruits of their labors.”
The participatory budgeting process normally begins with community members brainstorming project ideas in the summer or fall. Those projects are then formalized into proposals and presented to the community at a project expo in the spring. Community members then have the opportunity to vote on how to spend the money.
In a Council district that struggles with a lack of open space, many of the projects are aimed at making the most of the neighborhood’s existing parks and green spaces.
One project would set aside funds to renovate the aging basketball courts at John Jay Park. Another would update the beloved elephant sprinklers at St. Catherine’s Park. A third calls for the purchase of an all-weather mainteance vehicle for local parks.
There are also several proposals to update the facilities at the Webster and 67th Street libraries. The building that houses the Webster branch was built in 1906 and needs to upgrade its heating, cooling and electrical systems to keep up with modern technological demands, the proposal states. The 67th Street branch is a designated cooling center during the summer, but the building needs to replace its cooling system.
Still, other proposals suggest improvements to the New York City Housing Authority complexes that house thousands of Upper East Side residents such as revamped outdoor space for the Stanley Isaacs Houses.
Kallos is also offering the option to lay some of the funds over for the next round of participatory budgeting, which will begin this July and include the full process of generating ideas from the community.
District 5 residents will be able to vote on the proposals from March 31 to April 5 at a number of different locations. Anyone who is 16 and older can vote, regardless of immigration or parole status.