Scout: In 2018 Participatory Budget, More Residents Than Ever Put Their Mouth Where Their Money Is

Emily Cassel
August 4, 2017

When budget delegates convene next week to discuss 2018’s Participatory Budgeting proposals, they’re going to have their work cut out for them.

This is the fourth PB cycle, which invites the community to decide how a portion of the city’s capital budget is spent. Ideas are organized into seven categories: culture and community facilities, education, environment, parks and recreation, public health and safety, streets and sidewalks, and transportation. And this year, residents get to allocate their biggest chunk of cash yet: $800,000, an increase of $100,000 from FY17. 

City of Cambridge budget analyst Michelle Monsegur has been tallying up and sifting through ideas since the nomination period for the fourth cycle wrapped up on Monday, and she says that this year, people submitted a record-smashing 608 ideas for how they’d like to see their tax dollars go to work.

That could be because several of the publicly chosen proposals from previous years, like separated bike lanes along Brattle Street or the water bottle refill stations that were installed earlier this summer, have increased visibility of the PB process. “It’s really nice to see these things coming up,” Monsegur says. As in previous cycles, she says the latest round has seen lots of suggestions for things like community gardens and improved bicycle infrastructure. (Perhaps surprisingly, the street and transit categories are usually the most popular, and receive the highest number of proposals.)

But while those are, no doubt, important improvements, they aren’t among her favorite ideas this year. She has two current faves—first, a “Jade Chain,” or a series of moss walls with built-in benches with air-cleaning power equivalent to 275 trees. “I just really like that idea; I think it’s really creative and cool,” she says. Another favorite? The “Multi-Generational Treehouse” submitted by the Commission for Persons With Disabilities. The outdoor play space would be open and accessible to all, regardless of their age or ability level. “I want to go to it!” she laughs.

After budget delegates select this year’s ballot items, the city will announce finalists in mid-November, and the community vote to choose cycle four winners will be December 2–8. (And, as always, voting will be open to all Cambridge residents ages 12 and up.)

If you want to keep tabs on proposals from previous years that are already in the works or even completed—like free public wifi, bilingual books for children, bike repair stations and new laptops for the community center—check out the winning PB projects map. It won’t be long until more PB-funded initiatives (a public restroom in Central Square, a food rescue freezer van) come online.