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Inside the Participatory Budget Project in Cambridge, Mass.

The city has launched a digital map so the public can track progress for community improvement projects that they approved through the city’s participatory budgeting process.

Screenshot of Cambridge Mass.'s participatory budget project tracking map
Cambridge's digital Participatory Budgeting Winning Projects map
Photo credit: Screenshot
Cambridge, Mass., has launched a new digital map that the public can use to track progress on community improvement projects.

The tool is aimed at deepening transparency within Cambridge's pre-existing participatory budgeting initiative, which lets constituents propose and vote on which improvement projects get funds. The new interactive digital map shows users the sites of projects that have been funded this way, tracking progress toward completion. So far, the city has approved 72 participatory budgeting projects since launching the initiative in 2014.

Cambridge has so far this year made $2 million available for such projects — double the amount of last year. Another new change is that in the past residents could only propose capital expenditures, such as one-time purchases or construction projects that may have some maintenance costs. This year, the initiative expanded to allow residents to also propose the creation of programs and services that the city would fund for up to three years.

Proposals are vetted before they can be presented for public vote. A team of resident volunteers prioritizes and evaluates ideas. The volunteers consult with the city, visit sites and conduct community assessments to make sure the ideas would really benefit the public as well as be feasible for the city to achieve. They also estimate costs. This year, volunteers worked to trim down more than 1,000 proposed ideas into 20 final choices for the community to vote on.

Past projects have included creating electric vehicle charging stations, improving youth centers and planting trees.

In 2024 so far, eight projects have won funding. They include raised sidewalks, interactive speed limit signs and flashing crosswalks to improve pedestrian safety at intersections near schools, hospitals and senior living facilities. Another project would provide people who are homeless with critical supplies like gloves and feminine hygiene products. A third would see diapers, baby wipes and other infant hygiene products provided for free in the restrooms of city buildings, regardless of gender, for three years. It would also expand the city’s free menstrual products program to supply men’s restrooms, for the same time period.

Participatory budgets aim to get the public more engaged and involved in their communities, as well as to keep the city responsive to residents’ needs and desires. Voting is open to many types of residents, including children 12 and up, college students living in the city, and noncitizens. Votes can be cast over the phone or using a code online. Last year, 10,522 residents weighed in on these projects.