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Voting to spend

Voting to spend

Residents vote in Participatory Budget Process

Story, photos and video by Sherry Mazzocchi

Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito (left), with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín (center), revealed the winners of the District 8’s Participatory Budget process. Photo: Office of Councilmember M.Mark-Viverito

The people of East Harlem have spoken.

And they want a solar-powered greenhouse.

Last Monday, about 100 people gathered at the Johnson Community Center at Lexington and 113th Street to celebrate the 2012 Participatory Budget (PB) process, now in its second year in New York City.

Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito said she was heartened by this year’s increased level of community participation.

Nearly 1,800 voted on projects, up from 1,000 people last year.

“It’s just civic engagement, true democracy in action,” said Councilmember Mark-Viverito on Mon., Apr. 8th. “It really is wonderful to see.”

Last year, the Councilmember’s office distributed a little more than $1 million.

This year, approximately $1.5 million went to five projects—ones that community members designed to improve the quality of life of Council District 8, which covers El Barrio/East Harlem, Manhattan Valley and Mott Haven in the Bronx.

In the PB process, residents from the eight participating districts across the city come out to decide which projects will be funded. A minimum of $1 million each in capital discretionary funds for the process is pledged by participating Councilmembers.

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Members of the organization Community Voices Heard, which voted on the budget.

The annual community vote is held each spring, following a series of neighborhood assemblies where community residents brainstorm ways to improve the community and a four-month period during which volunteer budget delegates develop those ideas into concrete project ideas.

“We had some wonderful projects,” said Councilmember Mark-Viverito. “We’re hoping to see this process triple next year.”

According to Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, one of the best things about the project was that all community members – regardless of their immigration status – had a voice in the process.

“You don’t have to be an actual U.S. citizen to vote [in the Participatory Budget process],” she said.

Mayor Yulín was elected mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 2012, unseating the 12-year incumbent Jorge Santini Padilla.

She plans to implement the PB process in San Juan, and she came to see it in action.

Mayor Yulín visited voting sites in Manhattan and the Bronx throughout the weekend to learn more about the PB process and attended Monday’s announcement. She even voted, as an honorary District 8 constituent.

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Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, Julie Menin and Mayor Yulín.

The Mayor spoke with delegates about their experiences with the PB process and learned about the 21 projects on the ballot.

In addition to giving all residents the ability to contribute to their community, Mayor Yulín said the process also provides a high level of engagement.

She added that it could be used to combat corruption by removing the back door situations that can occur in politics.

During the past four months, neighborhood residents and organizations such as Community Voices Heard brainstormed and refined through an extensive review process with the city.

Community members voted and the top five received funding.

Two of the more innovative projects that won were a mobile cooking classroom and a solar-powered greenhouse.

Both projects were supported by Barbara Lee, who facilitated the public health and environment committee.

“We were really able to convince people in this district that a big problem is obesity,” Barbara Lee said.

Two-thirds of the people in District 8 are obese or overweight, she said, and heart attacks are the leading cause of death in East Harlem.

“So we wanted to bring healthy cooking to all of the district,” she said.

The mobile classroom teaches people how to cook healthy foods. It will be sent to schools, senior and community centers and other locations where people want to learn.

The solar-paneled greenhouse is designed to be self-sustaining. It will grow healthy food that will be sold at local farmers’ markets. It also gives young people green jobs skills as they learn about solar panels, recycling water and hydroponics.

Others looked on and marveled at the process.

Julie Menin, the former head of Community Board One and current candidate for Manhattan Borough President, said she’s also a strong proponent of participatory budgeting. “It’s how communities can really take control of their over their destiny.”

To hear more about PB and from Mayor Yulin, please visit


Title: PB Winners

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Nearly 1,800 residents voted on projects.


Projects receiving funding as a result of District 8’s Participatory Budget process are:
• The installation of security cameras at Douglass, East River, Johnson and Millbrook Houses ($500,000)
• Laptops for District 8 Schools ($450,000)
• Technology centers for youth and seniors ($173,000)
• SMART’s mobile cooking classroom ($180,000)
• Solar-powered greenhouse at Millbrook Houses ($300,000)
• Basketball court renovations at Thomas Jefferson Park ($300,000)

For more on the Participatory Budget process in District 8, please visit





0063 and 0072 Two of the winning projects.

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