Participatory Budgeting is $1M in Betterment Through Balloting | chelseanow.com

Participatory Budgeting is $1M in Betterment Through Balloting

L to R: Malachi, Lizbeth, Ashley, and Sean said a win for the Technology Upgrade project would further engage public school students in the learning process — and in an effort to facilitating engagement in the Participatory Budgeting process, the minimum age for voting has been lowered from 14 to 11. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

BY SAM BLEIBERG | Upgrades to parks and green spaces, new tech for libraries and schools, improved public safety, and better bus stop info all have a place among the worthy projects vying for your support this week, as part of Council District 3’s annual Participatory Budgeting process. The program allows locals, ages 11 and up, to cast their vote for five out of 11 ballot items. The top vote-getter is fully paid for, with other projects greenlit until the allocated amount of $1 million in discretionary funding has been distributed.

District 3 residents can cast their votes at several area polling sites, at the district office, online (via pbnyc2018.d21.me) and, for the first time, at LinkNYC kiosks. Locally sponsored resident committees, NYC agencies, and nonprofits have been mobilizing voters throughout the week, and will continue to do so until voting closes on Saturday, April 15.

“Participatory Budgeting is democracy in action,” said NYC Council Speaker (and District 3’s councilmember) Corey Johnson, in a statement to Chelsea Now. “It gives every constituent an opportunity to take part in the budget process, and it gives them the tools and the forum to address local issues in a grassroots way. It has already brought tremendous improvements to our neighborhoods, and that’s because of the creativity and the energy that the community puts into this process each year.”

The process kicked off at last Thursday’s Project Expo. Residents gathered at PS 41, aka the Greenwich Village School (116 W. 11th St.), to hear directly from the project sponsors. Johnson’s district office hosted the outreach event, which brought together residents, volunteers, and students to share their visions for the community. Although the process officially began April 7, Expo attendees could cast their votes then and there — making for some very spirited pitches from the volunteer delegates who stood by handmade posters illustrating each proposal.

As in previous years, the NYC Parks Department partnered with community members on several proposals. Phyllis Waisman, a member of the Chelsea Garden Club, had a two-word answer to what motivated her advocacy: “Green spaces.” She cited the wide range of uses and visitor demographics as justification for improvements to the garden around the recently reopened Chelsea District health center.

Phyllis Waisman, a member of the Chelsea Garden Club, believes improvements to green spaces and parks benefit residents of all ages. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

A proposal to install tree guards will have aesthetic and financial benefits, according to resident Jone Noveck. “Most of the trees they plant now have a poor likelihood of survival,” she said. “We may replace a tree two or three times. You save the taxpayers money if you plant those trees in a more comprehensive way.” Involved with participatory budgeting for the first time this year, she pointed to the project as an example of the community stewardship and accountability inspired by the process.

Eunice Hughes and Lisa Jasienowski, lifelong Chelsea residents, believe a project to refurbish the basketball court at Chelsea Park has the potential to revive what was once a vibrant community gathering place and an attraction for a city-wide audience. “Growing up, people would come from every borough to play basketball at Chelsea Park in the summertime. It was live,” said Hughes.

Eunice Hughes and Lisa Jasienowski, who work with the youth nonprofit Infirnity, said improvements would revive the basketball court at Chelsea Park as a hub for the community. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

Hughes and Jasienowski work with a local nonprofit called Infirnity that supports children in the area. Basketball is central to their outreach, and they lament the unattractive and dangerous court conditions. “There are so many young people that love to play ball. They come to our open gym night, but they don’t want to play outside because it’s unsafe,” Jasienowski said. “It’s a hub for the community. Think about the entire generation of youth that aren’t getting access to this.”

The pair are not the only residents who believe improvements can change the perception of public spaces. The 7th Avenue South Alliance proposes the installation of historic streetlights, which they argue will transform the character of the stretch of the street to make it more welcoming for residents and visitors alike. “Seventh Avenue South has been a problem. A couple of these intersections at one point were gauged among the most dangerous in the city,” said Brooke Schooley, a member of the Alliance.

Brooke Schooley and Maury Schott of the 7th Avenue South Alliance believe historic lighting fixtures will make the street feel more like a neighborhood and less like a highway. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

“This is the number one tourist destination for people coming to the West Village at the Christopher Street stop. We can provide an aesthetic feature like historic lights that can make it feel like more of a neighborhood and less like a highway.” The lights, which feature long arms, are deemed by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission as appropriate for wide avenues in the Greenwich Village Historic District.

Safety was central to two ballot items, each of which would implement improved surveillance cameras in the Elliot-Chelsea Houses and Fulton Houses. Residents explained that the existing cameras do not move, creating various blind spots that perpetrators can exploit. Justin Waters, a lifelong Elliott-Chelsea resident, put together a video illustrating the blind spots in the current surveillance. “You can’t see all these areas. New cameras would eliminate the potential hiding spots and give peace of mind,” he said.

Renée Keitt, a resident and gardener at Fulton Houses, expressed frustration that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) could not invest funds in the project. “The fact of the matter is we all know NYCHA doesn’t have money.” Participatory Budgeting, she said, “allows us to get things that are desperately needed in the development… It’s a matter of safety. It’s a matter of people’s lives.” When asked about the need to rely on Participatory Budgeting for safety on NYCHA property, Johnson’s office expressed interest in ensuring that the supplemental cameras were installed independent of the voting results.

Justin Waters, his grandmother, and Renée Keitt (far left) believe improved security cameras are essential for safety at Elliott-Chelsea Houses and Fulton Houses. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

The Expo saw a strong turnout of young people — a result of initiatives by nonprofits and the City Council to encourage youth involvement in local politics. This year, the Council lowered the voting age from 14 to 11. Johnson’s office appointed a Participatory Budgeting Youth Fellow to represent young people throughout the process. “Local government is underused and is such a powerful tool because you can have direct involvement,” said Cole. “It allows people to choose how they want their neighborhoods to look. It makes the process more democratic.”

A sizable group on the youth committee for the voting outreach effort attended, and gave Chelsea Now their input on how the projects fulfill the needs of their age group. “We’re giving a youth perspective on what we want to see fixed,” said Imani. When asked what she looks for in a project, she said, “Inclusiveness, in terms of benefitting a wider variety of people — not just age-wise, but in terms of different communities.” Her colleague, Mason, echoed this sentiment. “Projects should be inclusive, something that also benefits kids but could benefit the elderly or adults as well. This year it seems there’s more inclusion of institutions that could benefit from participatory budgeting as well.”

Audrey Henningham said she “grew up in the library,” but that the technology in the local branches is outdated. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

Many high school students in attendance used the opportunity to advocate for a proposal to benefit public schools. The district-wide project would supplement the technology that students claim helps make lessons more engaging and provides access to necessary tools for students that lack Internet or computer access at home. “Sometimes students may have to go home and might not have computers or Internet connection at home. They might have to go to libraries and waste their time trying to figure out how to get things done,” said Ashley, a student at the High School of Fashion Industries. “If we upgrade everything, children can do work at school instead of going out of their way to figure it out. If it’s at school, it’s easily approachable.”

Malachi, a student at Quest to Learn on W. 18th St., described technology’s role in his curriculum. “We spend most of our time on computers. Sometimes there are problems with the Wi-Fi, or our project can get deleted. It would be good to know if this is done properly that won’t happen.”

Young people were not the only demographic concerned with improved technology. Audrey Henningham, a volunteer for Johnson’s district office, attended to support a project to upgrade technology in libraries. She says the printers in the four local libraries are often out of order and the letters are worn off many of the keyboards. “I grew up in the library, so this is an important project for me,” she said.

Malachi attended the exposition to provide feedback on the proposals from the perspective of a young person. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

Supporters of all projects agreed that the Participatory Budgeting process enhances resident participation in local governance. For Keitt, the forum is a tool to make her voice heard and enact change. “It’s an exciting way to actually get something done. We can see it working,” she said.

Erik Bottcher, Chief of Staff to Speaker Johnson, added, “Participatory budgeting has shed light on the city’s capital budget process for many people who really didn’t know how it worked. It’s also getting many people excited about the city’s budget process for the first time.”

Attendees went on to say that Participatory Budgeting opens the door for further involvement in local government. Bottcher added that the process “builds a culture of voting.”

Noveck explained the exposition as an asset for learning about opportunities for additional community projects. “It’s a very good way to participate and meet other people who want to participate so you can collectively work on bigger projects,” she said. “If you participate even marginally, what you realize is where you do want to participate. Otherwise it seems really daunting.”

Access descriptions of each proposed ballot item and get info on voting sites via council.nyc.gov/pb. To vote online, visit pbnyc2018.d21.me (ballot items and voting site info are also listed, in full, below). For LinkNYC kiosk info, visit link.nyc.

Photo by Sam Bleiberg

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

Real Time Rider Information at Bus Stops: Five additional electronic boards to display real time bus arrival information at key bus stops throughout District 3. | $250,000 | District Wide

Historic Street Lighting for 7th Avenue South: Funds would install historic lamp posts on Seventh Ave. South, between Commerce St. and Carmine and Clarkson Sts. | $250,000 | Greenwich Village Historic District

Basketball Court Renovations at Chelsea Park: This project would repave and repaint the court surface, install new hoops and add new seating | $575,000 | W. 28th St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.

Tree Guards to Promote the Health of New and Established Trees: This project would install over 200 tree guards to protect valuable and vulnerable trees throughout District 3. | $242,000 | District Wide

Renovate Park Surrounding Chelsea District Health Center: This project would restore the grounds of the City-run health center in Chelsea that reopens in spring. | $350,000 | 303 Ninth Ave.

Security Cameras at the NYCHA Fulton Houses: This project would fund the purchase of security cameras and monitors in the NYCHA Fulton Houses. | $500,000 | NYCHA Fulton Houses

Security Cameras for NYCHA Elliott-Chelsea Houses: This project would fund the purchase of security cameras and monitors in the NYCHA Elliott-Chelsea Houses. | $500,000 | NYCHA Elliott-Chelsea Houses

Gym Renovation at PS M721: This project would fund a new fitness center for special needs students who currently lack adequate recreation space. | $500,000 | 250 W. Houston St.

Technology Upgrade for Public Schools: This project would support growing technology demands in every public school in District 3. | $350,000 | District Wide

New Air Conditioning for Dance Studio at PS 11: The project would fund the installation of one split system AC unit in the dance studio at PS 11. | $400,000 | 320 W. 21st St.

Technology Upgrade for Libraries: This project would fund technology upgrades — including new desktops, printers and more — at libraries in District 3 | $200,000 | District Wide

PTA board member Sarah Kim noted an AC unit in the PS 11 dance studio would be used for after school and summer programs in addition to standard school days. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

WHERE AND WHEN TO VOTE

NYC Speaker Corey Johnson’s District Office | 224 W. 30th St. (btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.), Suite #1206 | 10 a.m.-6 p.m. through Fri., Apr. 13.

The LGBT Center | 208 W. 13th St. (btw. Seventh & Greenwich Aves.) | 11a.m.-5 p.m. on Sat., Apr. 14 and Sun., Apr. 15.

Greenwich House | 27 Barrow St. (btw. W. Fourth & Bleecker Sts.) | 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sat., Apr. 14 and Sun., Apr. 15.

Fulton Houses Tenant Association Office | 419A W. 17th St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) | 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sat., Apr. 14 and Sun., Apr. 15.

Hudson Guild Elliott Center | 441 W. 26th St. (at 10th Ave.) | 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sat., Apr. 14 and Sun., Apr. 15.

Ivan Shapiro House | 459 W. 46th St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) | 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sat., Apr. 14 and Sun., Apr. 15.

Manhattan Plaza | 400 and 484 W. 43 St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) | 4 p.m.-7 p.m. on Tues., Apr. 10 and Thurs., Apr. 12

Participatory Budgeting Fest at Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground | W. 17th St. (btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.) | 12 p.m.-3 p.m. on Sat., Apr. 14: This special event offers yummy Caribbean treats by Woke Foods, pizza, tunes by DJ Flip Bundlez, art-making by six different artists, wellness goodies by Earth Mother Medicine, Double Dutch lessons by Double Dutch Empire, salsa lessons by Balmir Dance Studios, and Participatory Budgeting voting, hosted in partnership with Friends of the High Line.

Elliott-Chelsea and Fulton residents are asking for security cameras to cover blind spots in the current surveillance system. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg