What starts in PB doesn't always end in PB
Participatory Budgeting update from Neil Reilly, District Committee Member and former Transit Committee Delegate
Through patience and persistence, bringing real change to our neighborhoods is possible through Participatory Budgeting—even when a project doesn’t fit the budget or scope of PB!
As a budget delegate serving on the Transit Committee last year—the first year of PB in New York—I spearheaded a project to improve the subway stations in the district. I compiled the suggestions submitted by district residents for improvements at all of the F/G stations from Church Avenue through Bergen St, as well as the R station at 4th Avenue/9th Street. The suggestions ranged from improving lighting to repairing track tiles to repainting the ceilings.
With a Transit Committee colleague I toured each station, noting the areas that matched residents’ descriptions and also noting potential work that could be included in a district-wide proposal to improve our subways. These ideas turned into a formal proposal to the MTA, which reviewed the feasibility and likely pricetag of the items on our list.
Many things, such as tile repair throughout a station and construction of elevators or escalators, are well beyond the $1 million scope of PB capital projects. However, items like benches and signage qualify as capital work and fit in the scale of PB. The scarcity of neighborhood maps, for example, near station exits is not only easy to remedy but also very inexpensive. In fact, the MTA told me, the MTA was willing to do a handful of the improvements I proposed on the agency’s own dime and outside the PB process. I see this as a major win for the district: helpful improvements are being undertaken by the MTA with its own funds, leaving room for other necessary items to win PB dollars.
My interactions with City agencies through PB—how working together in these ways can be a new experience for both sides, and my success in achieving the MTA’s commitment to undertake my proposed improvements—affected me on several levels. I decided to become engaged with the PB process at the district-wide level through the District Committee. While keeping an eye on the excellent work of this year’s Transit delegates, I have pursued expanding voter participation—particularly among seniors—and coordination between delegates and their respective group facilitators. In addition, I’m currently participating as both a researcher and a subject in an analysis of the PB process organized by the Urban Justice Center, and am conducting my own research into the MTA capital budgeting process.
And the big day for our project finally arrived! Today I met some MTA officials, station managers, and a construction crew for a walk-through of the 7th Avenue station. I pointed out the work that I had noted in my original proposal, which was well received by the MTA staff. It was an exciting experience to meet with the individuals who would plan and execute the improvements that had their genesis in PB through the suggestions of district residents and the work of my delegate committee.
This experience has reinforced in me the value of PB. Even when items fall outside the scope of the process, it still serves as a useful alert to policymakers and public servants that there are needs to be addressed in our communities. And when these efforts pay off, we get better pubic services and a strong connection to our City government.