Real Power? Real Money? A reflection on Participatory Budgeting in New York

On a recent evening in New York City, I met with eight other people in my City Council Member’s local office, down the block from City College in Harlem. We were the community delegates tasked with discussing over 150 projects proposed at neighborhood assemblies. Our assignment was to score the projects on the basis of community need, feasibility and impact, and bring recommendations on top priorities back to the City.

This process is known as participatory budgeting (PB) and I wanted to see how it worked. My main questions were: Is PB as currently practiced an innovative way to enhance local democratic decision-making and empowerment? Or is this token inclusion, while the real decisions are made elsewhere, as usual?

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