Thanks to a new outreach effort, residents of Cambridge, Mass., are finding it easier to influence government.
Dante Ramos wrote at the Boston Globe, “Something unusual happened in Cambridge the other night: There was a public meeting about capital budgeting, and yet somehow there was electricity in the air.
“Last year, Cambridge set aside $500,000 for one-time projects, solicited 380 proposals for how to use it, and set up a series of committees to winnow them down. Residents age 12 and up could choose among the 20 best pitches. More than 2,700 Cantabrigians voted, either on paper or online, and scores of people crowded a room at the Cambridge Senior Center Tuesday to await the results.
“Before the announcement, people posed for photos in front of display boards touting their favorite projects: laptops for a community learning center, free Wi-Fi in several locations, and more. Finally, assistant city manager Louis Depasquale produced forms identifying the winning projects — the top six vote-getters, which were then read out Oscar-style. Residents put a higher priority on 100 new trees, a $320,000 public toilet in Central Square, and $7,000 worth of books for children learning English than, say, on a $350,000 amphitheater in a park.
“The initiative, known as ‘participatory budgeting,’ echoes Boston’s Youth Lead the Change program, now in its second year, which enlists residents age 12 to 25 to decide how to spend $1 million annually in youth-oriented capital projects. These efforts don’t just provide street-level information about what residents want. They also provide something that communities throughout the Boston area badly need: an easy path into civic affairs for young people, new arrivals, and longtime residents who simply feel left out.” More here.