Cambridge Chronicle: How Would You Spend $800k in City? Cambridge Wants to Know

Jonathan Sigal
July 20, 2017 

The city of Cambridge has $800,000 to spend on miscellaneous capital projects, and it wants residents’ help with deciding where - and how - the money gets spent.

The money is part of Cambridge’s fourth annual Participatory Budgeting cycle, with funds coming from property taxes. Over 300 ideas have already been submitted. Michelle Monsegur, a budget analyst for the city, said she is expecting north of 500 submissions ahead of the July 31 deadline.

“It’s really a rush to get them in,” Monsegur said, “but we always end up impressed by what people come up with.”

How it works

Once all submissions are received, between 50 and 60 “budget delegates” will spend August through November researching the projects and ultimately come up with 20 selections for the official ballot. From there, a voting period from Dec. 2 to Dec. 8 will unfold, where anyone from Cambridge 12 and older can vote online or via paper ballot at nearly 30 events throughout the city.

“The budget delegates evaluate the projects on need, impact and feasibility,” Monsegur said. “It’s a tough job, but you learn a lot about the community and what citizens are asking for.”

The following week, the winners will be announced, where the project with the most votes will receive its requisite amount of funds and so forth until the $800,000 runs out. One caveat, though, is each project wouldn’t receive funds until July 1, 2018, which also kicks off the fiscal year 2019 budget.

Broader input

Outside of the Participatory Budget’s finer details, Monsegur said she most enjoys how the process allows those who might not otherwise have a voice - non-U.S. citizens, college students and high schoolers, among others - to advocate for their opinions.

“These people don’t always have the chance to voice themselves politically in other channels,” Monsegur said. “All these projects take place on city property, and this is what young people use in the city. Why not ask them about changes? I hope the younger generations are inspired by this.”

In fact, Monsegur said, it’s often younger residents who often develop the most creative ideas. Plus, she added, if middle and high school students wanted to, they could “really rock the boat” based on their sheer numbers in Cambridge.

“You end up getting really creative projects from the younger kids that maybe the city hasn’t thought of,” Monsegur said.

New ideas

As for projects in consideration this year, Monsegur said she hasn’t taken too close of a look at them yet, but expects some “really interesting ones” to pop up. She also pointed to bike infrastructure, ideas geared towards Cambridge’s homeless population and community fridges as ones that are typically in consideration.

But, much like every year, Monsegur said there are sure to be some surprises in store.

“I think in general people are trying to figure out how they can spread the money the furthest and do the most good,” Monsegur said. “That’s always encouraging.”

In years past, projects have included bike repair stations, street trees, solar panels atop the Main Library’s roof, the Central Square public toilet, bilingual books for kids and more. And, in two years, Monsegur expects the Participatory Budget to reach $1 million, a prospect she said excites her and her colleagues.

Until then, she encourages residents young and old to submit projects by the July 31 deadline by clicking here or visiting Cambridge City Hall. For further information, Monsegur asked that interested parties visit: