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PB + Bureaucratic Jams

Voting for participatory budgeting starts in 32 City Council districts tomorrow. In each of those districts, voters will decide how they want to spend $1 million of the City Council’s budget. But as Camille Petersen finds, democracy is complicated.

PETERSEN 1: The participatory budgeting expo in Chelsea looks like a science fair. Community members set up three-paneled poster boards on round tables. And as their neighbors circulate, they pitch their projects to them.

Phyllis Wayzman is pitching a few projects — improved park paths, better lighting for NYCHA parks, and repairing a playground’s sprinkler system. This is her fifth year working with participatory budgeting.


Oh! It’s the most democratic process there is because the ideas start with the

district, with the community. (0:07)

PETERSEN 2: But she says participatory budgeting comes with limitations. To even get on the ballot, projects need to be approved by the city.


You’re dealing with city agencies when you go through the vetting process and they have a lot of do’s and dont’s. (0:06)

PETERSEN 3: Then, the projects have to get enough votes to win funding. After that, the winners are handed over to city bureaucracy.

Lou Berta (BUR-ta) has voted on projects in Chelsea for a few years. He’s keeping his eye on a $500,000 project to turn an empty lot into a park. It was approved in 2016.


So I’m looking to see where that’s gonna be spent. I’ve been bringing it up in some of our resident association meetings. But I’ve been told it’s coming. (0:07)

PETERSEN 6: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea, agrees the long wait times are a problem.


It’s one thing we hear not just on participatory budgeting but we hear on any

project that’s being built in New York City. (0:06)

PETERSEN 4: City data shows that of the participatory budget projects approved between 2012 and 2017, only 8 percent have been COMPLETED. After projects win enough votes to get funding, they go through lengthy construction and approval processes within city agencies.

Hollie Russon-Gilman researches participatory budgeting at Columbia University. She says voters learn a lot about the challenges and frustrations of city government through participatory budgeting.


Often people are like oh wow that’s more expensive than I thought. Or that takes

longer than I thought. They get to see how the sausage is made. And that is for

better and for worse. (0:09)

PETERSEN 5: Even though Lou Berta (BUR-ta) is still waiting for that half million dollar project to happen, he’s planning to vote on new projects this year. But he won’t reveal his favorites.


I’m gonna be a politician right now. I’m not even gonna dare say what I’ve seen

so far. (0:05)

PETERSEN 9: Voting starts tomorrow and ends April 7th.

Camille Petersen, Columbia Radio News.


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