Opening up municipal budget requests

Every year, NYC’s community boards put together a list of possible capital projects in neighborhoods. After consulting the community, a wish-list gets sent to agencies. Chances are, if you’re a NYC resident, you aren’t aware of most of those requests or their outcomes.

We’re working to bring greater transparency to this request process, through a budget mapper version of Shareabouts. Using the tool, residents and other interested parties can use a map to show where they want capital expenditures — building and facility needs; street changes; open space and park needs needs. If you like a suggestion, you can support it or leave a comment, helping interest around requests to become more visible.

The online map is available 24hrs a day for input, review and discussion, engaging local residents who would otherwise not have a voice in the process. We hope that an easier path to getting involved will lead to an increase in the diversity and quality of funding requests. Having an online tool will also help community boards right away, because the staff won’t need to manually keep tabs on projects–the map is a good way to gather information ahead of a meeting to select the shortlist of requests.

Longer term, we’re interested in keeping these maps up to date with outcomes. Was the project funded? Which agencies granted funding? Is the work complete?  We are particularly interested in the impact of sharing this information as we enter the next budget cycle. With more information, communities can learn from previous rejections and other districts, to get smarter at requesting feasible, fundable projects.

These capital requests are only a small part of the funding that goes into shaping neighborhoods, but the same approach can be helpful for council members, community transportation improvements and more. With data about other funding sources, the map becomes even more informative.

If you’re affiliated with a community board and want to try out this tool, get in touch. We’re also very interested in talking with elected officials and community organizations elsewhere. Anywhere there’s discretionary spending with amount of public input, we hope this tool can make a difference.

(You may be thinking: Is this the Participatory Budgeting thing I’ve been hearing so much about? No. Requests from community boards are just that–requests, with limited public input into the final list. The participatory budgeting process goes much further, with community assemblies meeting to identify projects and set priorities for some discretionary spending set aside by participating Council Members. Eight Council Members are doing PB this budget cycle. If you want to take part, check it out at pbnyc.org.)