It's the most wonderful time of the year; the time when the city lets CHILDREN help decide how to spend $35 MILLION in municipal funding. Yes, participatory budget week has finally arrived, and unfortunately the process will unfold along less chaotic lines than my first sentence suggests.
But before we get to the practical bit, some background to help you understand this extra helping of civic duty. In 2011, four City Council members took note of Brazil's participatory budgeting practice and decided to see what would happen if New Yorkers suddenly got to hold the city's purse strings for a second. Within reason: These funds may only be used for capital projects like libraries, parks, schools, public housing, and community spaces. Some have described this invitation to help decide how the tax dollars get spent as addictive, a "gateway drug to democracy."
Which is great, because there exist only a few criteria for taking part in this rarticipatory budgeting cycle: You have to be 11 years or older; a resident of a participating district; and...that's it. No voter registration or U.S. citizenship required.
Participatory budget time won't last forever, though: The current cycle began on March 30th, and ends April 7th, meaning your democratic glass is either half empty or half full, depending on how you look at it. In any case, please follow this link to determine whether or not your Council member lists among the 32 who have opted to give (partial, let's not get carried away) control over $1 million of their discretionary funds to YOU, the constituent. (You can also track the progress of the projects here; just keep in mind, stuff moves slowly with government.)
My district, unfortunately, does not participate in the budgeting, so I will be sitting here thinking wistfully of all the things I could fund with that city cash, like for example smooth roads without massive chunks removed at random or bus countdown clocks to tell me how long I'll have to wait. Please, allow me to live vicariously through you and go vote.