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Cambridge Forges Ahead with Participatory Budgeting Despite Pandemic

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Despite pandemic-related limitations, Cambridge will proceed with its annual round of participatory budgeting, City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said in a press release last week.

The announcement said this year’s cycle of participatory budgeting — a process in which local citizens decide how to allocate a portion of the city’s budget towards residents’ proposals — will operate in an “abbreviated” time frame due to limitations on in-person events.

Residents will decide how to spend $500,000 of the city’s budget — half the amount normally allocated for the process — and any current Cambridge resident over the age of 12 is eligible to vote on the capital projects. DePasquale also promised that a future “expanded level” of participatory budgeting would compensate.

Like past years, residents will be given time to submit proposals to the city, which will then be further developed and whittled down by committees based on feasibility and cost after the month-long September submission period. The final list of projects will then be put to a vote beginning in December.

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In the statement, DePasquale touted the success of the initiative in past years and said it ensures the city’s budget “reflects the priorities” of Cambridge residents.

“Participatory Budgeting has become a vital community-building tool that directly involves residents in the City’s budgeting process,” he wrote. “Even with the current economic uncertainty, I believe the City must continue this important community engagement initiative.”

Last year, Cambridge voted to divide $1.125 million — the highest allotment ever — among eight public space improvement initiatives — including $200,000 for planting new trees, $150,000 for public water-filling stations, and $350,000 to install a “Portland Loo” outdoor public restroom. The city received over 1,600 individual proposals during the collection cycle, and approximately 7,600 residents participated in the voting process.

Cambridge Budget Director Taha Jennings said in the statement that the participatory budgeting process will necessarily differ from past cycles — including with a condensed timeline — due to the pandemic.

“As we continue to adapt to the evolving impact COVID-19 is having on society, we have had to shorten the timeframe for the process,” she said. “We felt it was important to make every effort to continue the Participatory Budgeting process this year and we are looking forward to an expanded community-driven process once we can safely resume in-person engagement and events.”’

According to the press release, the participatory budgeting initiative has put more than $4.75 million towards resident-chosen projects since its first cycle in fiscal year 2016.

—Staff writer Declan J. Knieriem can be reached at declan.knieriem@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DeclanKnieriem.

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