Cambridge Day: Public toilet, new trees, outdoor Wi-Fi win bulk of participatory budgeting’s $500,000

Marc Levy
April 7, 2015, revised April 27, 2015

The results of Cambridge’s $500,000 experiment in participatory budgeting were announced Tuesday, with six projects announced as getting funded8: free Wi-Fi in six outdoor spaces; a 24-hour access public toilet near Central Square; computer equipment for the Community Learning Center on Western Avenue; up to 350 bilingual books for children learning English; bike repair stations with tools and bike pumps to be installed around the city; and 100 new trees with educational signs.

More than 2,700 residents voted in the process, said Jeana Franconi, budget director for the city. Officials called the concept a success, and said it would return, and Franconi invited residents to a feedback session from 6 to 8 p.m. May 5 at the Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square.

As far as next steps, we’ll begin planning Round 2 this spring and will kick off the process in the summer. We’re moving the timeline up to avoid the PB running parallel with putting the operating and capital budgets together and the winter weather.

Residents submitted more than 380 ideas for the first-ever Participatory Budgeting project experiment in December, and a 21-member volunteer steering committee and 40 volunteer budget delegates worked to narrow the submitted ideas to a final 20 options, including consulting with city staff to develop cost estimates, Franconi said.

The projects – which actually total $527,400 as proposed – will be evaluated through June and implemented starting in July, according to the process’ organizers.

“The process does not control what projects people vote for,” Franconi said, referring to the selections sending the total over the advertised half-million dollars. “It really will be on a year by year basis and the City will have to decide how much over the budgeted amount we are willing to fund.”

A week of voting started March 22, and the winners were announced Tuesday at the Senior Center.