Cambridge Chronicle: 545 ideas submitted on how to spend $700K in Cambridge's Participatory Budget

Natalie Handy
August 16, 2016

With the submission deadline for the third round of the Participatory Budget officially closed, more than 70 volunteer delegates are now tasked with paring down 545 ideas submitted by residents to improve the city.

This year’s Participatory Budget will allow community members to decide how to spend $700,000 out of the public budget for capitol projects in Cambridge. Ideas were accepted between June 1 and July 31, according to budget analyst for the city of Cambridge, Michelle Monsegur.

Past winning projects include bike repair stations, a freezer van for prepared food rescue, water bottle fill stations, a public toilet in Central Square, among others. Proposals are vetted by city staff and approved by the city manager before the December vote. Winning projects will be included in the fiscal 2018 Capital Budget for adoption.

One of this year’s notable ideas was a community refrigerator for residents to put leftovers, Monsegur said. Following the “Little Free Libraries” idea, a community fridge or “Little Free Pantry” would offer a neighborhood place where residents could leave and take food.

There were also requests for mobile truck showers for the homeless, Monsegur said, which the Health, Environment and Safety Committee will look into. Many ideas also pertained to bicycle infrastructure, especially in Inman Square, she said. Some suggested more painted rainbow crosswalks, like the one recently painted in front of City Hall for Pride Week, she said.

Other projects include requests for free public Wi-Fi and a public art project to paint all the fire hydrants.

“Projects will be really varied and creative,” she said.

This year, the city received 545 participatory budget idea submissions, which is about the same number as last year, she said. The first year they received about 380 submissions.

This cycle, the number of volunteer budget delegates nearly doubled from the past two years, Monsegur said. The 70 delegates will be divided into five committees to determine which ideas will make it onto the ballot in December. There will be 20 projects on the ballot this year, she said.

The high number of delegates will relieve some of the stress on the committees, Monsegur said.

The delegate committees include: Culture and Community Facilities; Parks and Recreation; Health, Environment and Safety; and Street Smarts. In addition, similar to past years, there will be one youth committee.

The age range of the committees is pretty broad, Monsegur said, from high-school aged to senior citizens with a majority being women.

The minimum delegate age is 14, and the only requirement is that volunteers are affiliated with Cambridge in some way, she said. This means they either are Cambridge residents, work or attend school in the city, or have children who attend Cambridge schools. Anyone affiliated with Cambridge who signs up to delegate is accepted, Monsegur said.

Ballots will be available Dec. 3-9, Monsegur said. Last year around 4,200 residents voted, but this time around they are shooting for between 6,000 and 8,000.

“I think it’s a good exercise and gets people thinking about what the broader community needs,” she said.

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