If the residents of City Council District 6 get their way, there could be a book-lending van that also collects compost driving through the streets of the Upper West Side in the next couple of years.
That proposal was one of the nearly 400 offered up as part of City Council member Helen Rosenthalâs participatory budgeting project over the course of seven meetings held in the district since late September.
Tuesday night marked the last official meeting for brainstorming ideas for spending $1 million of discretionary funds in District 6, though the deadline for submitting ideas will end on Nov. 1. The list of project ideas will be narrowed down and presented to the community and voted on in March.
This is the third year of participatory budgeting in New York City and the biggest yet, with 24 council districts participating in comparison to 10 last year. In District 6, Rosenthalâs constituents will propose capital spending projectsâeach costing at least $35,000âand four to five of those will be funded.
At Tuesdayâs event, about 15 constituents gathered around two tables to learn about the process and the types of projects they could propose and then brainstorm ideas. The ideas from the seven meetings included increased signage alerting drivers of pedestrians, an expanded Hudson River Greenway, and the construction of bus shelters at stops that do not have them currently.
âThis year I want to ask you what you think. You live in our communityâwhat do you think we should spend our capital funds on?â Rosenthal asked her constituents at the meeting on Sunday, Oct. 19.
Michelle van Vlaanderen, a resident of West 93rd Street, took part in the group discussion on Tuesday, emphasizing her unhappiness with what she sees as a lack of safety on the Hudson River Greenway.
âI was not really prepared, I didnât do my homework,â van Vlaanderen said, adding that it was her first time at a participatory budgeting event, but she hoped that this might be a place to solve some problems she sees in the neighborhood. âI have some concerns of my own, which are mostly about bicycle traffic as well as car traffic and the safety of pedestrians. Right now nobody knows how to handle that. I certainly donât.â
Steve Anderson of the Theodore Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association and Barbara Adler, executive director of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District came to Tuesdayâs meeting to jointly present an idea for improving the exterior of Theodore Roosevelt Park on 81st Street and Columbus Avenue, next to the Museum of Natural History.
âThere are so many activities happening around the museum. There are hundreds of thousands of people walking on those sidewalks,â Anderson said on Tuesday night, adding that the perimeter of the park is empty. âThereâs nothing planted. Itâs dirt, plain dirt. What happens is that every visiting dog decides to stop and pay their respects.â
Anderson said that he and Adler envision a more complete upgrade to the park with the planting of flowers and the addition of tree guards, which they estimate would cost a total of $250,000. Adler added that they had begun securing funds for this plan from SoirÃe in the Park, a benefit that took place in the park in May.
Mark Diller, a member of Community Board 7 and a district committee member for Rosenthalâs project, attended all seven neighborhood assemblies. He helped write down the ideas of one of the groups on Tuesday night.
âHearing from our community first hand, youâre always amazed at just how smart our neighbors are. So many people come with so many ideas that benefit a wide swath of their neighborhood,â Diller said. âIt proves what is probably a tired adage, that you ask somebody who lives in an area what is needed, theyâre going to have insightful, very well thought out, sometimes meticulously detailed descriptions of needs.â
Rosenthal encouraged the constituents who came to contribute ideas to try to separate the participatory budgeting process from the rest of what they know about city politics.
âJust think of this as you are getting engaged in democracy and itâs something a little different than how weâve thought about budgeting or about how city government works,â Rosenthal told the group on Tuesday. âPut aside your suspicions or doubts about the system and just enjoy and absorb what youâre about to learn.â
Angela Bentley and Garrett Donnelly contributed reporting.