By Matthew Fischetti
How would you spend a million dollars in your neighborhood?
That was the question posed to Bushwick residents at a joint participatory budget assembly, hosted by Council Members Sandy Nurse, who represents east Bushwick and East New York, and Jennifer Gutiérrez, who represents west Bushwick and Williamsburg, on Thursday Oct. 6th at Bushwick High School on 400 Irving Ave.
Participatory budgeting is the process where residents can have a direct say in capital projects (which include things like libraries, public spaces, parks, etc.) that cost at least $50,000 and last at least five years. The process is currently in the idea-collection phase which will last till the end of October (for district 37 they’re looking for proposals by the 17th) , proposals will be developed from then until January and voting will occur over a nine-day period in March and April, and the implementation phase starts in May. Anyone over the age of 12 can vote.
For the residents of District 37, which encompasses East Bushwick, this was the first year they were able to participate in the process. Not every councilmember chooses to opt into the program.
37-year-old Carolina Wang moved into Bushwick two years ago and visits Irving Square Park twice a day, everyday. She started an Instagram photographing the many dogs in the park, posting them to her account @Irvingsqpuppers. She attended the meeting because she wants to see improvements to the park, like a dog run, due to the increase in dog owners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to have a safe space for the dogs and we want to make sure that we’re responsibly sharing it with people in the park,” Wang said in an interview.
While it is the first time she has gotten involved in participatory budgeting, she said that the public assembly was helpful and made the process seem less daunting.
“I really enjoyed the information that I got. And it makes the process seem less scary,” Wang said in an interview. “And I do appreciate them [representatives from Councilwoman Sandy Nurse’s office] letting us know it’s the first time they’re doing it. It may not be perfect, but we’re just gonna do our best to do this.”
Kurt Anderson, 72, has been involved with the Cooper Street Community Association, which tries to foster greater relationships with Bushwick youth and their 83rd police precinct by organizing programming together. He recommended at the meeting that some of the money be spent to build either a bowling alley or community center, which he says the east side of Bushwick needs.
Anderson had to organize a recent fundraiser for his organization at a bowling alley in Queens because there wasn’t one located in the neighborhood.
“It’s an enjoyable sport, and everybody can come and do that. And I think it’d be a plus for the neighborhood,” he said.
40-year-old Rashid Littlejohn has gotten involved in participatory budgeting priorly as a youth leader, but he was excited to make his voice heard for the first time as a resident. He runs an organization called GunsforGrants which focuses on giving youth pathways to success away from harm and violence. Littlejohn has a few recommendations for participatory budgeting, including a turf field at P.S. 384 on 242 Cooper Street and turning the former Bushwick Economic Development Corporation on 61 Cooper Street into a community center.
“It was great to hear the voices of the community, you know, really eager to have their interests met when it comes to the funding. There’s a lot of concern that no one’s ideas gets overlooked,” Littlejohn said.
If you are interested in getting involved with participatory budgeting visit ideas.pbnyc.org or reach out to your local council member’s office.