Cambridge Day: Tell the city what to buy with $500,000 starting Sunday in week of project vote

Marc Levy
March 20, 2015

Voting begins Sunday to direct spending of a half-million dollars on projects citywide, with the 20 options starting as small as $7,000 to buy up to 350 bilingual books for kids learning English and getting as big as a $350,000 amphitheater in Danehy Park.In this first-ever use of Participatory Budgeting in Cambridge, voting runs for a week, can be done online (and is the first using an online-voting tool developed at Stanford to prevent fraud) and includes every resident down to 12 years of age.

“The city and Steering Committee hope youth in particular will take advantage of this opportunity to voice their opinion,” said Jeana Franconi, budget director for the city, in an email. “The goal is to involve residents directly in the budgeting and city-building process, foster civic engagement and community spirit and help ensure that the city’s Capital Plan reflects the priorities of Cambridge residents.”

Voting takes place at locations around the city, kicking off with an event at the Cambridge Main Library, 449 Broadway, from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Budget delegates will promote their projects and show off displays at two Project Expos – one from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Windsor Street Health Center, 119 Windsor St., Area IV, and the second from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 28 at the Cambridge Community Center, 5 Callender St., in the Riverside neighborhood (alongside the winter farmers’ market). More voting locations can be found here. Paper ballots will be available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole and Mandarin.

The money can be used for one-time capital projects that benefit the public and are on public property.

Residents submitted more than 380 ideas for projects in December through an interactive online map, email and mail and through five assemblies and other informal events around the city. “The online tool sparked a lot of dialogue,” Franconi said.

A 21-member volunteer Steering Committee led the process as more than 40 volunteer budget delegates worked in committees to narrow the submitted ideas to the current ballot. They conducted research, site visits and community needs assessments to help prioritize projects and consulted with city staff to develop cost estimates for proposals, Franconi said.

The projects fall into four categories: culture and community facilities; environment, public health and public safety; parks and recreation; and streets and sidewalks. A list of the projects is here.