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Playground Renovations and Mobile Library Win Participatory Budgeting Funds

By Dana Varinsky | April 11, 2014 5:42pm
 Theresa Davis displays her poster, which describes playgrounds in NYCHA houses that are in need of repair, at District 33's Participatory Budgeting Project Expo. Davis' proposal won the most votes, and will be funded.
Theresa Davis displays her poster, which describes playgrounds in NYCHA houses that are in need of repair, at District 33's Participatory Budgeting Project Expo. Davis' proposal won the most votes, and will be funded.
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DNAinfo/Dana Varinsky

GREENPOINT — A mobile library vehicle, school bathroom renovations and repairs to playgrounds at McGolrick Park and four NYCHA complexes are all among the projects set to receive funding as the winners of Councilman Steve Levin’s participatory budgeting process.

The five proposals that received the most votes were announced Wednesday evening, after final ballots were submitted on Sunday. In total, the winning projects account for more than $1.5 million of the money allocated to the district. Although Levin had originally announced that he would disburse $1 million, he announced Friday that all five projects will be fully funded, for a total of $1.5 million.

“These projects were developed by the community and will serve the community, and I am looking forward to seeing the impact they will have on the lives of residents throughout the district in the years to come,” Levin said.

Ingrid Bromberg Kennedy, the organizer of a proposal to renovate the McGolrick Park playground, said the participatory budgeting process gave her group a sense of local support for her idea. The project received the third most votes of the 15 on the ballot.

“It shows that the community is interested in the park, which isn’t a surprise to me, but it’s nice to have confirmation,” she said.

The McGolrick Park Neighborhood Alliance, the group behind the proposal, was formed recently, so Kennedy said this funding is the group's first victory.

“In terms of something to build on, it’s been our first big effort and it’s successful, so it’s inspiring and exciting for our group,” she said.

Participatory budgeting allows residents of certain City Council districts to propose infrastructure projects that need funding, and vote on which ones should receive the city’s money. Each council member has discretionary funds to allocate in his or her district, some of which pay for salaries and services, and some of which are designated for improvements to parks, schools, libraries and public housing.

For the past three years, council members have chosen whether to allow voters to determine which of these types of infrastructure upgrades to fund. This year, residents in ten districts were able to take part in the participatory budgeting process.

According to Levin’s staff, just less than 2,000 people voted in District 33 this year, coming up slightly short of last year's turnout and failing to reach the councilman’s goal of 3,000.

A plan to repair four NYCHA playgrounds proved most popular. More than 1,000 voters selected it as a priority for the district.

Kennedy said it was challenging to get the word out about the participatory budgeting process. Leading up to the voting period, her group spent time in McGolrick Park talking to neighbors and handing out fliers in Polish and English.  

“Because participatory budgeting is new, it’s not like asking people to vote in the presidential election,” she said. “People are like, ‘Participatory budgeting? What’s that?’”

Like many of the projects, the funds secured for McGolrick Park do not cover the full cost of all the repairs the Parks Department would like to complete. Kennedy said the $450,000 the group won will cover approximately a quarter of the ideal budget for the project. The McGolrick Park Alliance is hoping the rest will come from the department’s general funds.

Another winner, a mobile library called The BOOKlyn Shuttle that will travel throughout Williamsburg and Greenpoint, also has a budget that exceeds the $198,000 it earned through participatory budgeting. St. Nicks Alliance, the non-profit organization behind the project, had already raised nearly $30,000 for the project before voting began.

The shuttle is the district's first project to be administred through a nonprofit rather than a city agency. Lai-Wan Wong, Director of Youth and Education at St. Nicks, said without the capital funding, the organization would still have a long way to go to secure enough money for the shuttle's construction.

"Without a major single investment, even though we’ve had good fortune fundraising so far since September, we could potentially be in another year of fundraising," Wong said.

She added that all the projects now must undergo a review process, and that she does not yet know the exact timeline for the final allocation of the money.

"We hope that because of the public votes and the community involvement they’ll place our application as a high priority," Wong said.

Funding for the winning participatory budgeting projects will be finalized when the city's budget in passed in June, but it will take significantly longer for specific agencies to receive the money and begin work.

The next round of participatory budgeting in District 33 is slated to start with neighborhood assemblies in the fall.