Astoria, District 26 head into next phase of participatory budgeting

Over the course of nine participatory budgeting meetings, hundreds of community residents in western Queens have submitted ideas that will soon be voted on to receive a portion of $1 million in capital funding.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s office held nine neighborhood assemblies and public meetings in Astoria, Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, the Woodside Houses, the Queensbridge Houses and the Big Six Towers for the district’s first-ever participatory budgeting process.

During the meetings, community members proposed ideas for capital projects that will then be voted on to receive part of funding.

“Participatory budgeting is democracy in action,” Van Bramer said. “Over the past several months it has been exciting to watch residents and stakeholders from all around the 26th District come together to participate, discuss and debate which projects are needed in their very own neighborhoods.”

Additionally, 140 of the district’s residents have signed up to be budget delegates, who will work with Van Bramer’s office and city agencies to ensure the community’s selected projects are funded and implemented in 2015.

Some of the proposed projects included a rooftop farm and community garden at Queensbridge Houses; the district-wide installation of traffic calming measures; a pedestrian footbridge over Queens Boulevard and Thomson Avenue in Long Island City; a new dog run in Sunnyside; a rooftop playground for PS 166 in Astoria; and the expansion of bike lanes within the district.

Community members in the district had plenty of positive things to say about the participatory budgeting process and what they think it will bring to their neighborhoods. Sunnyside resident Kenny Medrano said he loved the “active engagement” the process brought about.

“The whole point of participatory budgeting is to have a voice and this process has given us that,” Medrano said. “Being a part of participatory budgeting and helping facilitate these ideas has been a tremendous experience. I am looking forward to the vote and seeing these projects come to life.”

Dana Frankel, a Long Island City resident and member of Community Board 2, spoke of the empowering nature of having a say in where community dollars are spent.

“The participatory budgeting process has given community members the opportunity to have a direct role in shaping their neighborhoods, and is an empowering way for people to share their ideas on what’s needed and what could be improved,” Frankel said.

“It is not only a tool for implementing real projects, it is a means for initiating discussions among neighbors, elected officials and other stakeholders to define priorities for the future,” he added.

Budget delegates will work with Van Bramer’s office and city agencies through February 2015 to develop the project ideas into full proposals. Those proposal drafts will be presented to the community in March and then revised based on community feedback.

Between March and April, final project proposals will be presented and voted on. Van Bramer will then submit the public’s spending priorities to the City Council, including the winning projects.

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