Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

What It Costs (to Buy a Bench, to Extend a Curb)

On Saturday afternoon, after dropping my son at a birthday party, I voted. For the first time in my experience it wasn’t for a person, but for places, technology and trees. In 2011 my New York City Council member, Brad Lander (a former housing advocate), decided to launch participatory budgeting in his distrct, allowing community members to vote on how to spend $1 million in discretionary funds in our neighborhood. We were each allowed to vote for five projects, which ranged in price from $350,000 for safety improvements to the fast-moving street at the end of my block, to $40,000 for new benches in Prospect Park. Transit and kids garnered the lions’ share of proposals, with three environmental projects in the middle. I suspect that in the wake of Superstorm Sandy 2013’s ballot will be festooned with projects focused on drainage, runoff and soft infrastructure.