BY MARK NIMAR | Cycle 9 of NYC’s annual Participatory Budgeting process commenced last Sunday, with a neighborhood meeting at Chelsea Green. Located at 140 W. 20th St. (btw. 6th & 7th Aves.), the recently opened micropark was created, in part, with funds from its win as the top vote-getter of Cycle 4.
Participatory Budgeting (PB) is “a process by which community members decide how to spend $1 million of their City Councilmember’s budget in capital funds” to improve and enrich aspects of their district, said a promotional flyer distributed prior to the event by its sponsor, NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
This particular meeting concerned Participatory Budgeting for District 3, which encompasses Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Flatiron, West SoHo, Meatpacking, and Midtown West.
“We’re very proud of the investment that we’ve made in Council District 3 over the last six years,” said Erik Bottcher, Johnson’s Chief of Staff, before a gathering of community members. “And in the last five years,” Bottcher noted, “we have funded, through this ballot process, renovations for the Jefferson Market Library, a new HVAC at the Muhlenberg Library, bathroom renovations at Lab School, which were badly needed, and have been completed, funds to revitalize Chelsea Waterside Park, funds to install the first razed pedestrian crosswalk in Manhattan,” and numerous other community improvement projects.
The meeting’s setting made Bottcher’s words all the more powerful. The brand new park’s greenery, peaceful benches, and jungle gym filled with laughing children were all concrete examples to community members of the positive impact Participatory Budgeting can have on one’s community.
In attendance at the Sept. 29 event was Sally Greenspan, one of the leaders of Friends of 20th Street Park, the group that advocated for open space and a park beginning in 2010.
“It was simply perfect to have the Participatory Budgeting program kick off right here in Chelsea Green,” Greenspan said, to Chelsea Community News. “In 2015, what was then known as ‘the 20th Street Park’ became the very first PB winner in District 3, the project won by a landslide. The $200,000 that the Park won became the seed money that made the Chelsea Green’s July 25 opening a reality—a beautiful open space for the community, by the community. Dreams can come true.”
Many community members came to the meeting with fresh ideas on how to spend this year’s funds.
“We’re in an age where many people have pet dogs,” said photographer Ben Friedman, a resident of Penn South, an affordable cooperative housing community in the heart of Chelsea. “I love dogs, and I love responsible dog owners… However, we need to do some educating, with a small minority of dog owners. And I think what we need is some frequent signs along the edge of sidewalks that say, ‘please curb your dog.’ And that will improve all areas of the district, and set a good example for other districts, and help us to conform to the New York City health code and the Department of Sanitation code.”
We all, Friedman noted, “like a clean community. Most of us hate to step in stuff that we shouldn’t have to step in… I think it’s a terrific streetscaping program of educational signage to help us all be more considerate of our neighbors.”
Other community members expressed an interest in using the funds to make the neighborhood safer for people with disabilities.
“One of the concerns I came to hear about was the crossing at the West Side Highway and 26th Street. It’s a key access to the Hudson River Park, to the pier on 26th Street… that safely enables disabled people to walk all the way from the George Washington Bridge to the tip of Manhattan in safety,” said Kathy Schnapper, a legally blind person who also lives in Penn South.
The crosswalk’s current design, with a cumbersome concrete barrier and a traffic button out of reach for shorter and disabled individuals makes “getting across the West Side Highway at that point is a challenge,” Schnapper noted. And as a place with beautiful views, kayaks, and other attractions, Hudson River Park “is a particularly resource-rich area, but inaccessible” as it is currently set up.
Schanpper suggested that the district could use PB funds to move the pedestrian signal. “In an ideal world, they’d also install an audible signal as they’ve done on 23rd Street” to make it easier for the blind to navigate.
“I really think we could use Participatory Budgeting for curb cuts,” said Robert Acevedo, a Chelsea resident with Spinocerebellar ataxia, a condition that confines him to an electric wheelchair. More curb cuts on Chelsea’s streets would allow Acevedo to travel in his wheelchair with more ease and safety. Acevedo also mentioned using the funds to create more bus pads as well, designated areas that “make it easier to reach where the bus stops” for bus riders. Bus pads, Acevedo feels, will not only make it easier for disabled people like himself to comfortably board the bus, but will also create “less congestion” on the sidewalk for all pedestrians in Chelsea.
Although community members had many differing opinions about how to spend the money allocated for their district, they all got to have their say. Representatives from many different city agencies, including the New York City Housing Authority and The New York Public Library, were present at the meeting. These representatives sat at a line of desks inside the park, allowing community members to walk up to them directly and voice their opinions. This meeting’s passionate, engaged group of citizens ensures that a project just as great as Chelsea Green will soon be funded, to improve the community in new and necessary ways.
Chelsea Community News is made possible with the help of our awesome advertisers, and the support of our readers. If you like what you see, please consider taking part in our GoFundMe campaign (click here). To make a direct donation, give feedback about the site, or send a Letter to The Editor, email us at Scott@chelseacommunitynews.com.