MassDevelopment – Shirley Ave Participatory Budgeting – Revere, MA
When the city of Revere, a small city north of Boston, reached out to MassDevelopment about gathering local feedback on how $275,000 of their Community Development Block Grant funding would be spent, the development finance agency and land bank knew it would need a unique strategy to connect with residents beyond the usual suspects at public meetings.
Since the pandemic, the world has really cracked open in terms of hybrid community engagement,” says Laura Christopher, MassDevelopment’s TDI Fellow for Revere. “With limited staffing capacity, we wanted to leverage an online platform for building trust and complementing in-person engagement.
Together, MassDevelopment and the city launched a project website on the coUrbanize platform where they could ask questions about specific eligible budget uses and suss out community members’ priorities in their own words.
The city had made a push a few years back for residents to provide feedback on a master plan, and many had done so, but with items in that plan taking years to see completion, it was only natural for community members to wonder what had happened to their suggestions and where they stood in consideration.
People want to see a throughline when they provide feedback,” says Christopher. “When you summarize everyone’s ideas in a study, that’s different from providing a website where everything is documented in their own words.
Another benefit of using a dynamic online forum has been the evolution of the ideas that community members suggest, such as adding a new dog park or a neighborhood tiny library.
People have started to snowball on each other’s ideas and refine them or add on to them,” says Christopher. “Other people could clarify and helped identify existing momentum. We want the people who are already working on things in a grassroots way to be able to meet the people making new suggestions.
Over the course of the spring and summer, project leaders popped-up at in-person events and stationed tables near the beach and transit stops where they could poll residents and get community members involved who had never provided feedback before because they were working several jobs or had children and didn’t have time to attend public meetings.
From several hundred comments shared on the website, the team gathered 55 unique budget ideas that are now being evaluated for funding eligibility and maintenance feasibility. Approximately 20 projects will be added to the ballot when the community votes on the budget this fall.
A good amount of people will actually see their ideas on the ballot when it’s time to vote,” says Christopher. “That will be really powerful, to have a forum that there’s a record of. For people whose voice wasn’t part of it, we can say, ‘Here’s how your neighbors participated and how you can next time.’
Using coUrbanize, MassDevelopment and the City of Revere:
- Gathered 55 unique budget ideas from community feedback that will be voted upon as part of the city budget
- Showed residents a throughline of what happened to their feedback and how it was being considered
- Engaged residents who had never attended a community meeting due to work and family commitments
To learn more about Shirley Ave Participatory Budgeting, visit the project website here.