Imagine coming together to discuss what your community requires — whether it’s mental health counseling, community gardens, job fairs or photography classes — and then being able to access city funds to meet those needs. That sounds like a miracle, but it’s not. It’s a process called participatory budgeting (PB), and this week, the city’s Civic Engagement Commission under the Adams administration is launching “The People’s Money,” our first-ever citywide participatory budgeting process. All New Yorkers ages 11 and up, whether documented or not, will be eligible to vote on how to spend $5 million dollars of city funds.
The New York Times has called PB “revolutionary civics in action.” It enables those who are disenfranchised or have traditionally been excluded from government to have a voice in the future of their communities. And it translates voice into action — to bring current services, and urgently needed supplies or facilities to neighborhoods. PB brings neighbors together, promotes community-led decision-making, encourages young people and future voters to participate in a democratic process, deepens civic engagement, and strengthens the bonds between NYC residents and the various arms of our municipal government.
The Brennan Center for Justice has found that while a large majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the federal government and believe that US democracy is in crisis, their feelings shift when it comes to local government—where they are more closely connected to their representatives. This suggests that “Americans are hungry for a louder voice.” And that their satisfaction with government is tied to their ability to make a difference on issues that directly impact them. To restore trust in our democracy, the Brennan Center’s Zachary Roth argues, we must allow people to participate in meaningful ways. PB does that and more — it also helps identify local needs that might otherwise be overlooked. And “it has been recognized by the United Nations as a best practice of democratic governance.”
PB originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil, as an anti-poverty measure, and since then has spread to over 10,000 municipalities across the world. It was brought to NYC in 2010 by four City Council members, and council members who supported the program were able to offer it in their districts. In 2021, CEC launched a $1.3 million PB process in the 33 neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19. This year, for the first time, all New Yorkers in all districts can participate in the PB process. In launching a city-wide PB process, Mayor Adams is also fulfilling a charter mandated program that supported voters in 2018.
Our guiding principles for citywide PB are expansion and equity. New York City is home to the largest PB program in the globe and under the Adams Administration, we want to make it even bigger, giving more New Yorkers real dollars to invest in projects that impact their lives.
We kicked off the 2022 edition of “The People’s Money” in the Bronx on Sept. 14, which will be followed by a Week of Action starting on Sept. 19. Through a robust and inclusive engagement process, over 220 groups, including community-based organizations, submitted proposals to host idea generation sessions across the five boroughs, where New Yorkers will be invited to brainstorm ideas for creative projects. After careful review, The Civic Engagement Commission has funded over 80 of these partners to support the idea generation phase.
Residents across the boroughs will help decide which projects to place on ballots, and then vote on them. Winning projects will then be implemented starting in 2024 and people can submit their ideas right now at participate.nyc.gov.
The People’s Money presents our city with an unprecedented opportunity to become a national and global leader in participatory democracy. It puts money into the hands of New Yorkers, and empowers traditionally underrepresented communities to realize bold, creative visions for better neighborhoods, and a better New York City.
Sayeed is New York City’s Civic Engagement Commission chair and executive director.