Students Brainstorm to Use $17,000 From Participatory Budgeting

Professor Michael Menser explains participatory budgeting in Bedford Lounge of Student Center. / Jane Silverstein

After the Bedford Avenue Access-A-Ride bus shelter was erected on behalf of a democratic system of budgeting, CLAS student government held a brainstorming event on Thursday to survey the needs of students and fund a new project.

Participatory Budgeting is a financial system that opts to give up to $17,000 towards a feasible project that the majority of the people request. Brooklyn College is one of the first colleges in the United States to offer participatory budgeting after the system was founded in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

“We’re a little behind in democracy in the United States in many ways,” said Professor Michael Menser, one of the people responsible for bringing the budgeting to the states. “It’s a very simple process,” he said. “People come together, talk about what their needs are, try and create ideas to address those needs, then they talk to people who are experts in those areas about how to try and actually build something to do that.”

Menser brought participatory budgeting to the United States eight years ago, first arriving in Chicago and then to New York, adding up to 25 cities in North America and 2,000 cities across the globe.

The most popular ideas by students on Thursday were Wi-Fi, communications, information booths, e-books and gym equipment. Over a dozen students sat at round tables surrounded by blank pieces of paper and a box of crayons in front of a wall of blank paper-clothed easels.

“Draw what change looks like to you,” said Carolina Guarrella, CLAS speaker of the assembly, to the crowd. Colorful pictures of the campus with floating Wi-Fi symbols called for increased service on devices, a concern that was high on students’ lists during last year’s budget surveying.

About 10 popular projects will be chosen by a committee that decides if the ideas are feasible in the school’s budget and will benefit a majority of students over a long-term period. Proposals are due by the second week of March and can be filled out on the CLAS website as well as in paper form in their office on the third floor of the student center. During the student government elections between April 3 and 5, students can vote for one of the projects while voting for their student representatives.

“Even if we thought something wasn’t a priority, if we got 40 requests for it, it’s a priority for the students,” Guarrella told the Kingsman in September when the Access-A-Ride bus shelter was being constructed.

Last year the highest number of votes was sent to the ballot for a disability bus shelter, a project that exceeded the $17,000 mark. When President Karen Gould offered to cover the difference, the city stepped in to cover the entire cost.

Alan Gilbert, the advisor in charge of determining economic feasibility for the proposals, said that while Wi-Fi is an expensive operation, money from participatory budgeting can be put towards improving the signal.

In the end of the brainstorming session students filled out their project proposals.

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