Residents in western Queens decide which city projects to back

By Bill Parry

Dog runs under the Triborough Bridge, community gardens, pedestrian plazas, a community boat launch and a footbridge over Queens Boulevard and Thomson Avenue in Long Island City. These are just some of the ideas several hundred residents from Jackson Heights to Astoria came up with during brainstorming sessions as two City Council districts introduced participatory budgeting for the first time.

The residents in each district will decide how to spend $1 million in funding.

“This is the first time that anyone in our district can directly make decisions about how taxpayer money is spent,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “Residents have been extraordinarily engaged throughout all our assemblies and budget delegate meetings. Participatory budgeting will allow community members to experience the city budget process on a hands-on basis and learn more about how are government works.”

His District 22 covers Astoria and parts of Woodside, East Elmhurst and Woodside. Meanwhile, in neighboring District 26, which covers Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside, hundreds more are taking part.

“Participatory budgeting is democracy in action,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “Throughout this process the community has taken the responsibility of allocating $1 million to projects that they are developing. Over the past several months it has been exciting to watch residents and stakeholders from all around the 26th District come together to participate, discuss and debate which projects are needed in their very own neighborhoods.”

The process involves a series of meetings that feed into the city’s annual budget cycle. Community members attended neighborhood assemblies to learn more and develop their own capital project ideas.

Budget delegate volunteers broke into groups that will work on specific issues and will transform the list of project ideas into a ballot of several fully formed projects with details and costs. In the spring, budget delegates from both districts will present the final project proposals and residents will vote on which projects they want to see funded.

“I loved the active engagement of the people in this community,” Sunnyside resident Kenny Medrano said. “People from Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside came out to be part of this wonderful process. The whole point of participatory budgeting is to have a voice and this process has given us that. I am looking forward to the vote and seeing these projects come to life.”

Other projects that were suggested include more lighting at the Astoria Houses, a rooftop farm at the Queensbridge Houses, a rooftop playground for PS 166 in Astoria and installation of traffic calming measures in both districts.

“Most importantly, community members became more interconnected and have shared their mutual love of their neighborhood,” Constantinides said. “I am proud that we’ve had such success and I thank everyone who has attended and volunteered.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr‌y@cng‌local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.