Youth vote on ways to spend city tax dollars

David Eisenstadter, Special to the Reporter
Jul. 3, 2014

Kids and teenagers across Boston are telling Mayor Martin Walsh how to spend the city’s money and Walsh is listening.

Over a period of one week in June, some 1,500 Boston youths ages 12 to 25 cast votes for how to use $1 million of the city’s budget, according to Department of Youth Engagement and Employment Executive Director Shari Davis.

Young people were involved in the process from the beginning, Davis said.

“It was amazing to see 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds come together and decide how this process would work,” Davis said.

The program, called Youth Lead the Change, began under the leadership of former Mayor Thomas Menino, but came to fruition under Walsh’s administration, Davis said.

While other cities have experimented with participatory budgeting with adults, Boston’s youth program is the first of its kind, according to Davis.

Both Walsh and Menino shared a commitment to offer young people a chance to be involved in the civic process, Davis said, adding that the idea is to have today’s young participants become tomorrow’s leaders.

The result of the voting is that seven of the 14 city projects on the ballot will be funded. Those projects are sidewalks for Howes Playground and Mount Pleasant Park, upgrades to the Franklin Park Playground and Picnic Area and Paris Street Playground, security cameras for Dorchester’s Dr. Loesch Family Park (formerly known as Wainwright Park), Chromebooks for high schools in East Boston, South Boston, and Charlestown, a skate park feasibility study, and wall space for local graffiti writers and other visual artists to showcase their work.

In a press release Monday, Walsh said he was pleased by the projects that made the ballot, which were selected ahead of time by citizen input.

“The winning projects will make positive and meaningful change in the lives of Boston residents,” Walsh said in the statement. “The city budget is not taken lightly, and these young people were dedicated and passionate, becoming a driving force in the way our community process is run.”

The projects will take differing amounts of time to complete, but Davis hopes there will be public unveilings as the projects get completed so that young voters can see the results of their participation, she said.

Davis’s office spent time in areas with “traditionally disengaged” populations in Boston, including Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, East Boston, and South Boston, Davis said.

The target was to get 1,000 youths involved, and the vote total of more than 1,500 eclipsed that. Still, Davis hopes for two or three times that the next time around.

Walsh has already dedicated $1 million of the next budgeting cycle toward a continuation of the program, Davis said.