Scout: Five Participatory Budgeting Proposals We Love

Emily Cassel
September 3, 2015

The project proposal period for the second round of participatory budgeting wrapped up on Monday, with ideas that were futuristic (using gym equipment to power an electrical grid), suggestions so nice that they popped up twice (Kendall and Central Square had residents requesting public, real-time transit screens) and submissions that were at least a little tongue in cheek (“Stop giving out licenses to build high priced condos in North Cambridge,” one concerned resident suggested. “You have done way too many and are extremely irresponsible for doing so. PLUS you can do it for FREE.”).

All in all, 540 ideas for spending the allotted capital funds were submitted, up from 380 during the pilot participatory budgeting program earlier this year.

“It definitely makes the job for the budget delegates a little bit tougher,” laughs City of Cambridge Budget Analyst Michelle Monsegur. (Of course, she adds that this is a great problem to have.)

The number of project proposals isn’t the only thing that’s changed in this second round of participatory budgeting. This time around, citizens get to decide how to spend $600,000 rather than $500,000, and ballots will be translated into even more languages, giving a greater number of citizens a chance to decide how their city spends some of its money.

“I think the city has a great capital plan … but it’s nice to get some of these more creative ideas like ‘ping pong tables here’ or ‘mini golf on the Common,'” says Monsegur, whose personal favorite proposals include pods where new moms can nurse or use breast pumps and the purchase of a shared road test car so that high school students who don’t have a vehicle can still get their driver’s license.

We sifted through your ideas to get a sense for some of the issues that are important to you and have gathered our favorites below. Don’t forget: You can vote on the final proposals selected by budget delegates from December 5-12!

1. Perfect Playgrounds
Playgrounds are much more than just the sum of their parts; they’re a place where rubber, rope, steel and wood chips come together to form exotic jungles, mountaintops, pirate ships—and anything else kids can dream up. It’s important that Cambridge’s young people have access to high-quality play facilities, which is why Munir Shivji thoughtfully suggested adding more developmentally appropriate gear for children ages 1 to 3 to play alongside older kids at St. Peter’s Playground. Another great playground proposal: Michael Muehe’s idea for a Universal Design Playground, which would be planned and built to be usable by all children—regardless of their physical or mental abilities—without retrofitting.

2. Solidarity Fridge
One proposal had us turning to Google to learn more about something called a “solidarity fridge.” “Inspired by an initiative in Galdakao, Spain, the Solidarity Fridge is a refrigerator installed in a public, safe, and accessible location, in which any citizen can either leave food they won’t use or pick up food,” wrote Jennifer Brown in her proposal. According to an August story from NPR, Galdakao’s government was able to implement their fridge for 5,000 euros, or about $5,580, meaning that this idea could provide the hungry with “endless leftovers” using just a fraction of the funds allotted from the participatory budget.

3. Improvements to Mass. Ave.’s Bike Infrastructure
Cyclist safety is of paramount importance to Cambridge bike commuters, as evidenced both by the sheer number of times this idea popped up and by the number of endorsements these proposals received from other voters. One cyclist said that riding north towards Porter Square on the road “feels like a bad joke.” Another suggested a cycle track on Broadway and Mass. Ave., while one especially innovative cyclist suggested combining the street’s bike lanes with stormwater collecting cisterns.

4. Eclectic Welcome Signs
“Even as a Cambridge resident, I don’t know where Cambridge ends and Somerville begins,” remarked a commenter on Carla Nolin’s proposal to install welcome signs with quirky, unique quotes at points around the city. Nolin suggested using quotes from famous Cambridge residents, fun stats about the city and unique materials—like a giant canvas banner or lights around a sign’s perimeter—to make these stand out.

5. Heat Lamps at Bus Stops
Nothing noble about our love for this idea, it’s purely self-serving. We lived (and froze) through last winter and spent a lot of time in bus stops that felt like human-sized ice boxes. A handful of heat lamps could go a long way.