On Saturday, May 9th, Councilmember Corey Johnson held the inaugural West Side summit at the newly renovated Civic Hall on Fifth Avenue, inviting community members from the entire West Side district to make suggestions about future legislative, policy, and budget decisions.
The packed meeting of over 100 people included many Community Board 2 members from the West Village.
Johnson started the day’s program by reporting on his own activities since taking office in January 2014. He was followed by several elected officials: Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly member Linda Rosenthal.
The keynote speaker of the program was Margaret Newman of the Metropolitan Art Society of New York who discussed city planning and neighborhood design. Upcoming projects she discussed include preserving the many historical sites on the West Side, improving street design as part of the Vision Zero initiative and expanding park space and small business support.
After the speeches, the audience was invited to offer input at stations around the room focusing on various issues such as safety, parks, seniors, youth, health, housing, small business, and education.
Knowledgeable volunteers wrote down community member suggestions, and the top suggestions were presented to the entire assembled audience. Also, individuals were encouraged to write suggestions for the staff to read after the meeting. In general, there was a great deal of opportunity for community members to present solutions, instead of complaints.
The last activity was the announcement of the winning proposals chosen by the Participatory Budgeting process. Over the last few months, committees of volunteer community residents reviewed many proposals for budget expenditures, and a vote by 2,400 individuals selected seven winners. These involved improvements in street design along with renovations of parks, schools, and libraries in the neighborhood.
Johnson said that twenty-one council members were using this method to decide how to spend some discretionary funds, and the suggestions from the community made him aware of many needs that he might never have discovered otherwise. At least two million dollars in expenditures will be made, possibly with more to come later in this year and next.
Even in a neighborhood as politically active as the West Side, there were two characteristics of this process that stood out. First, the Summit was specifically designed to allow community participation in policy decisions—instead of simply being on the receiving end. Second, some suggestions recommended by residents have already been acted on with actual budget allocations and not just promises for the future.