Dancers at a community fair sponsored by ONE Neighborhood Builders
to promote the participatory budgeting process.
Photo by Stephen Ide/ONE Neighborhood Builders

Anusha Venkataraman, managing director of Central Providence Opportunities, ONE Neighborhood Builders, and Rebecca “Becki” Marcus, the Assistant Program Officer from LISC RI, spoke with Richard Asinof of ConvergenceRI about the recent community participatory budgeting process in Central Providence and Pawtucket/Central Falls, respectively, and its impact.

Venkataraman highlighted that a range of ideas for improving health and quality of life were submitted and voted on, such as a peer mental health program and improved access to transportation. As the Nine Neighborhood Fund moves into the implementation phase, it plans to keep the community engaged through an Implementation Committee, comprised of residents, city departments, and partners. CPO-HEZ aims to continue sharing updates and intend to celebrate winning projects and resident leadership at an event, she said, and also hopes to see participatory budgeting expand across Rhode Island.

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Marcus explained that the projects for consideration were chosen by the residents. The residents formed a Steering Committee and came up with 600 ideas to improve health in their communities. They then narrowed down these ideas to develop the most viable project proposals. The final projects were decided by community vote, with two projects receiving the most votes getting funded. Marcus emphasized the high concern for mental health in the voting outcomes, attributing it to the traumatizing effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities. For future rounds of investments, she expressed a desire to see participatory budgeting institutionalized in Pawtucket and Central Falls and suggested considering a longer funding timeline.