Interview by Steering Committee member Leonardi Aray
Q: How did you hear about Participatory Budgeting?
I received flyers in the mail and heard about it from you, my neighbor.
Q: Why are you involved with PB?
Community is really important to me. I was looking for ways to actively engage with the Cambridge community, putting down roots here and creating a stronger sense of connection to place. I also wanted to better understand Cambridge city government and politics. I have always been an environmental advocate and politically engaged.
Q: Tell us about the process you are currently involved with and some of the challenges.
I am on the PB Health, Safety, and Environment Committee. We just submitted 10 proposals for City review and feedback. When the PB process began I was hesitant about how it would unfold. It was challenging to see how it would all come together. However, after excellent discussion and deliberation as a committee, I am really proud of the proposals we submitted. The committee worked really hard and we took our roles as budget delegates seriously.
Q: The ideas that you submitted are socially-oriented. Do you think PB should be more supportive of socially-oriented projects rather than only one-time capital projects?
Absolutely! I think it is clear from the PB ideas submitted that people want to see the City address the social needs of residents, and specifically from the ideas reviewed by the Health, Safety, and Environment Committee, the needs of the homeless. People also want to see housing, and living in Cambridge, become more affordable. Financially, it is a challenge for many in the moderate or middle income range to rent or buy a home in Cambridge. Good people are going elsewhere.
Q: Did you see PB as an opportunity to shape citywide policies, and how?
Yes. All the proposals currently being reviewed by City officials will not be going for a vote. The ideas should not just end there. I think City officials should review all proposals and ideas submitted through PB to help inform city planning and policy. It should not just be the proposals that win the election that get attention. It is a way to show Cambridge officials are listening to residents' input. The perception is out there that City officials listen more closely to each other and big business.
Q: A city-wide planning effort is about to start. Should PB be included in this process or inform it, and how?
Yes. Use the PB ideas and proposals as data and input to inform planning and set priorities. I realize all the ideas cannot and should not be addressed. My experience is that through the PB process after reading ideas and turning them into informed vetted proposals, it is pretty clear where residents want to see the City put money and attention.
Q: I am not familiar with the qualifications of all the delegates - yours are impressive - but how can we engage residents that may not participate because they think they may not have the knowledge to take on this task? This is not only true for this process but for other democratic participatory processes. How do you engage others besides "the usual suspects"?
I am a first-time participant in participatory budgeting and now a very strong supporter of the PB process and believe it has real value for the city. I am skeptical about how invested City officials are with the PB. Hopefully, my skepticism will be proved wrong.
I also think the word “budgeting” turns a lot of people away from participating. When I tell people I am involved with PB, I have heard “budgeting… yuck… …what a painful process.” I am not sure if there is a better word to describe the process to make it more appealing for people to volunteer.
There could be more general outreach about PB in Cambridge - exciting videos, more activity on the social media platforms, signs on the T and buses, etc. It seems like important city nonprofits, colleges, and universities were not as actively engaged in the process as they could have been. Reaching out to them specifically and inviting them into the process might be helpful. Finally, PB idea submission and voting should be timed with November election voting, especially in 2016 with a presidential election.
Q: What are you doing or what help do you need to get people out to vote on PB projects?
I am hoping to make videos for the proposals I worked on (if they get past City officials). I would also like to get support from City Council representatives. I'm excited to hear that voting is both online and in person. This is my first time being involved with PB and it will be interesting to see how the voting process unfolds. Any extra help getting out the vote is appreciated. Soon it will be all out of my hands.
Q: Any other comments or suggestions?
Thanks for suggesting I get involved!!