BROOKLYN — Reopening the Gowanus Community Center, renovating Greenpoint's McGolrick Park, installing smart boards in P.S. 110 and creating a mobile library bus — these are some of the projects residents of City Councilman Steve Levin’s district would like to see come to life.
Residents gathered Wednesday at District 33's participatory budgeting project expo in Borough Hall to promote their proposals and listen to ideas. Representatives of each project stood by science-fair-style posters describing their projects, and explained their significance.
“Literacy is really important for academic as well as for economic well being,” said Lai-Wan Wong, Director of Youth and Education for St. Nicks Alliance, who wants to create a mobile library on a bus called the "Booklyn Shuttle," which would travel around Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
“Not everybody can buy books at retail prices,” she said, explaining that North Brooklyn’s libraries are often closed on evenings and weekends, the times working parents could take their kids to check out books.
Participatory budgeting allows residents of certain City Council districts decide how the city’s money will be spent. Each council member has discretionary funding to allocate in his or her district, and can choose whether to allow voters to determine how it will be used.
Some of this discretionary money pays for salaries and services, which are not part of participatory budgeting. The rest is capital funding, which is designated for physical infrastructure improvements. This year, residents in nine districts have the ability to propose projects that need this funding, such as improvements to schools, parks, libraries or public housing.
From March 30 to April 6, residents of District 33 — which includes Greenpoint and parts of Wiliamsburg, as well as Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill and DUMBO — can vote for five of the 15 proposed projects they believe will be the best use of their tax dollars.
“It gives people the opportunity to have a say in how public money is spent,” said Levin. “From a government perspective, what could be better than that? It’s truly democratic.”
In total, participatory budgeting projects will account for approximately $12 million of the city’s budget. District 33 has approximately $1 million to spend.
Levin said he hopes his constituents will select a diverse array of projects, but acknowledged that the decision is out of his hands.
“The good thing about participatory budgeting is I only get one vote,” he said. “So it’s up to the community.”
Levin debuted participatory budgeting in District 33 last year, and more than 2,600 people cast votes, the second highest turnout in the city after Brad Lander’s district. This year, Levin said he hopes to have more than 3,000 voters, and also wants to beat Lander’s numbers.
“He’s kind of like a big brother to me, so I have a little bit of a rivalry like you might have with your big brother,” Levin said.
Although most people who attended Wednesday’s project expo had a stake in a specific proposal, some came simply to learn about the projects they will soon vote on.
“I think this is a great tool for not only bringing capital improvements to the district, but for improving civic habits,” said Paul Kominers, 23, who lives in Brooklyn Heights. “I’m looking at a bunch of passionate people who are engaged in the communities and it’s really nice to see.”