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Cambridge Allocates $2 Million to 8 City Improvement Projects in Annual Participatory Budgeting

Cambridge City Hall is located at 795 Massachusetts Avenue. Cambridge announced eight winners of its Participatory Budgeting process on Thursday.
Cambridge City Hall is located at 795 Massachusetts Avenue. Cambridge announced eight winners of its Participatory Budgeting process on Thursday. By Julian J. Giordano
By Leslie P. Nevarez and Grace E. Yoon, Contributing Writers

The City of Cambridge announced eight winners of its 10th annual Participatory Budgeting process on Thursday, reporting record-high voter turnout thanks to a new initiative that brought PB into schools.

This year, local residents voted on how to divide a record pool of $2 million between 20 city improvement projects. The funding will be included as part of the next fiscal year’s budget, starting on July 1, 2024.

Participatory Budgeting — first established in Cambridge in 2014 — allows residents to vote on public funding allocations.

Of the 20 proposed projects this year, Cambridge residents over the age of 12 — including non-U.S. Citizens — voted for their top five PB proposals.

Among the most popular proposals — each racking up more than 4,000 votes — were efforts to provide free menstrual and infant hygiene products in public facilities for three years, deliver more supplies to the city’s homeless population, and expand space for trees along city roads.

Proposals for public restrooms in city parks, more shaded public seating, and improving safety for pedestrians received the greatest amount of funding, obtaining between $400,000 and $500,000 each.

Though students were previously eligible to vote, this year’s PB process marked the first time schools hosted official programming around PB for students in grades six through eight.

Cambridge City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 said it was “really exciting to see” the greater outreach to schools this year.

“I think this is something that just brings our children into the process,” he said in an interview.

Of the 10,522 total votes cast, more than 1,000 were from students in grades six through 12 across Cambridge.

Jackson L. Price, the city’s principal budget analyst and PB budgeting manager, said he “loved seeing the students and their energy around the process.”

“It’s that sort of civic participation city-wide at such a young age that brings a lot of public value to the PB process in Cambridge,” he said.

“Participatory budgeting is particularly special because it creates a space where someone as young as 12, or someone who’s a 60-year-old retiree can participate in the same conversation,” Price added.

Akiko Sugaya — one of the volunteer delegates who helped whittle down all proposed projects to the final 20 that residents voted on — described how civic engagement with PB has changed her perspective on Cambridge.

“After this cycle, I will start looking at the city differently,” Sugaya said, constantly considering “how this could be improved.”

Sugaya’s daughter Lena Ishii, a junior in high school and another volunteer delegate, said she was “really happy” that the winning project was one that she had voted for.

“Menstrual and period stuff should be accessible to everyone,” Ishii said.

“I’m excited to see what more the city will do for women,” she added.

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