The news has been dominated by national politics, and just under a week into his term, President Biden has already made sweeping changes.
But what about your daily life, things like bike lanes, construction and parks? That’s in the hand of community boards. And change is coming there, too.
For the first time ever, community boards across the city are accepting online applications for new members. Epicenter-NYC’s Chloe Tai answers some basic questions about them:
What exactly is a community board?
Community boards are self-governing city agencies and members are city officers. The purpose of community boards is to improve the lives of New Yorkers by assessing community needs, facilitating the participation of citizens in local decision making and advising elected officials and government agencies.
There are 59 community boards throughout the five boroughs. Each consists of up to 50 unpaid members appointed by the borough president in consultation with the council members of the district.
“Community Boards are the most local form of government that the city has,” said Aries Dela Cruz, press secretary for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
Who can join?
Anyone 16 and older who lives, works or has a specific interest in the community they represent.
What’s the application process?
It’s pretty straightforward: Every borough is different and has its own application, which is about a page long. Candidates are then interviewed by the borough president’s office.
You can be involved as much or as little as you want, said Tammy Rose, a member of Queens Community Board 3, which includes Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and North Corona. Community board meetings are held once a month. If you choose to join a committee such as land use, economic development or youth and education, there are additional time commitments.
Here are five reasons why you should join your community board:
Inject some youth: Generally, the members of community boards tend to be older than the population they represent. It doesn’t need to be that way; the required minimum age for members is 16, lowered from 18 in 2014 to encourage young people to join.
Get involved: The political climate of the last four years and the emergence of young politicians such as House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has inspired a wave of grassroots activism. Joining your community board is a clear path to enacting change and a way to get your feet wet in the political sphere.
“I find [being on a community board] very rewarding in the sense that you can find out what’s truly going on in your neighborhood,” Rose said. “If you really want to get involved in something on the local level, go to your community board. If you really want to change things, get on your community board.”
Bike lanes: Love them? Hate them? Need more of them? New Yorkers tend to have pretty strong opinions about how the little street space we have should be utilized. While the Department of Transportation has the final say regarding street redesign projects, there is actually a law requiring it to hold hearings with affected community boards before a bicycle lane is constructed or removed. That is to say, community boards hold a lot of sway when it comes to the creation of new bike lanes — or removal of parking spaces — however you look at it.
Deal with land use and zoning matters: You might not think about this often but these decisions quite literally shape your neighborhood and its future. Community boards decide whether a big apartment building can be built on a street dominated by single-family homes, if industrial sites and warehouses are approved and what is considered retail space, among other things.
“Importantly, community boards play a key role in land use matters by reviewing and making recommendations about applications for zoning changes and variances and on proposals for land use development projects,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
The decisions surrounding land use and zoning determine how a neighborhood develops, and often play a large role in gentrification.
Inject needed diversity: Community boards are often not as diverse as the communities they serve, a reality reflected in all five boroughs.
Take Queens for example, one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world. According to census data, Queens County’s population consists of 26.9% Asians, but less than 13% of board members self-identify as Asian. Only 49 board members identify as Latinx/Hispanic, representing about 7% of the board members, compared to the 28.2% that makes up the county’s population.
“My office is conducting extensive outreach among young people and members of underrepresented communities to encourage members of these groups to apply for Community Board membership,” Richards said. “This outreach will ensure that our 14 Queens Community Boards truly look, sound and feel like the diverse neighborhoods of each district they represent.”
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OUT & ABOUT
Aerialists & Acrobats: Some of New York City’s top circus performers will be showcasing their talents during a residency at City Point’s BKLYN STUDIOS now through Feb. 28. Viewers will be able to watch the artists train, rehearse and perform show-ready acts from the City Point main passageway. Learn more here.
Restaurant Week is back: Support struggling restaurants and treat yourself during the city’s annual Restaurant Week, running now through Sunday, Jan. 31. For the Covid era, this year’s deals are entirely to-go, with both lunch and dinner prix fixe options costing $20.21 (get it?). More than 500 restaurants are participating, including Bar Boulud (coq au vin or mushroom lasagna, plus a caesar salad), Sylvia’s (barbecue ribs and fried chicken combo) and BKLYN Larder (turkey and Comte sandwich, Orzo salad and a double dark chocolate brownie). Check out participating restaurants.
Racism, now: What was it like to grow up Black in Nebraska? Amber Ruffin, the “Late Night With Seth Meyers” writer, will join her sister Lacey Lamar and “All of it” host Alison Stewart on WNYC for a candid discussion on modern-day racism. The talk, which is part of New York Public Library’s Harry Belafonte Black Liberation Speaker Series, is this Thursday, Jan. 28 from 8 to 9 p.m. Register here.
CoVIDA: This public art display by Andrea Arroyo at Roger Morris Park — whose title combines Covid with “vida,” the Spanish word for life — honors those who we have lost to the pandemic and celebrates the resilience of community. The public is invited to submit names on-site at the park or online. The exhibit will be on display through Jan. 31. Learn more.
A new slice in the neighborhood: We’ve been hearing rave reviews about Bellucci Pizza, a new joint in Astoria opened by Andrew Bellucci, former executive chef of highly acclaimed restaurant, Rubirosa. We recommend the Vodka-Roni — fresh mozzarella, seasoned tomatoes and two types of pepperoni topped with vodka sauce. The restaurant also has ample vegan options. Order online.
Latinx Abstract: BRIC, the Brooklyn-based arts organization, is currently featuring the work of 10 contemporary artists who, while in different places in their careers, are united by a common theme of abstract languages. The show, which is curated by Elizabeth Ferrer, is on display through May 2. It is recommended to make reservations at least 48 hours in advance.
District 24 special election: Early voting to replace former City Councilman Rory Lancman began this past Saturday and runs through Sunday, Jan. 31. You can find your poll site here. The absentee ballot request period ends today, request yours here. Votes must be postmarked prior to Feb. 3 or dropped off at poll sites of the Board of Elections office through Feb. 2. In-person voting will take place on Feb. 2 from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. Remember, this is the first New York City election that will employ ranked choice voting. Need a refresher on how it works? We’ve got you covered.
Over the weekend, TBN24 interviewed candidate Soma Syed (it was a paid spot). And in a slew of endorsements, the New York Immigration Coalition Action and the Working Families Party are backing community activist Moumita Ahmed.
A win for some of the city’s essential workers: Did you know that about 60% of New York City’s produce passes through Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx, the largest of its kind in the world? Last week, the market’s unionized workers walked off the job for the first time in 35 years. AOC skipped the inauguration to join the picket line. With food supply chains threatened, management capitulated; under the new contract, workers will see a raise of at least 70-cents-per-hour the first year, contributing to a raise of $1.85 over three years.
Speaking of TBN24 and Documented, both are inaugural partners in URL Media, a network of community outlets to center Black and Brown voices that includes us, too. More on the Uplift Respect Love (URL, get it?) philosophy of the company here. We’re delighted to be a part.
GIVE & GET HELP
The Rolling Library: Astoria Book Fair has rebranded into a free mobile book fair. The Rolling Library is on a mission to promote literacy at all levels across the city. Last year, five Little Free Libraries were built at five NYCHA housing developments: Astoria Houses, Ravenswood Houses, Queensbridge Houses (North and South), and Woodside Houses. Help them bring books to the rest of NYC by donating to its GoFundMe here.
National Blood Donor Month: Can you spare a pint? The New York Blood Center will have mobile drives set up across the city well into February. If you’re at least 17-years-old, weigh 100 pounds and are in good health, you’re eligible to make a donation. You can find a mobile blood drive or donation center here.
Volunteer with North Brooklyn Mutual Aid: The group is looking for help ASAP this week with food packaging and distribution. Happen to be free any day from Wednesday Jan. 27 to Friday Jan. 29? Lend your time to pack St. Stephen’s Outreach’s pantry for those in South and East Williamsburg. Get in touch with NBMA through its Instagram page.
Mayoral candidates education panel: Education organization Place NYC will host a virtual education forum featuring mayoral candidates Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire, Loree Sutton and Andrew Yang. Journalist Arthur Chi’en will moderate the discussion on academic rigor in public schools, changes in the city’s gifted and talented program and more. You can tune in this Thursday, Jan. 28 from 7 to 8 p.m. Learn more and register here. You can also send any questions you have to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Truancy during Covid: The Department of Education reported that about 2,600 students have yet to attend class this year. While the number includes those choosing to disenroll, there’s worry over children who are unaccounted for altogether. Online truancy has been looming over the DOE since the beginning of the school year, and there’s no word yet on an actual attendance plan.
Sound View Dunes Park: This week we head to the North Fork, where there’s lots of breathing room this time of year. Sound View Dunes Park in Southold is roughly two hours from the city and offers some enchanting landscape features. A walk through the woods opens out onto an expansive view of Long Island Sound, but not before an intermediary area that feels like the forest and the beach collided into wooded rolling dunes. Chartreuse-colored lichens gather around short spreading trees that almost resemble juniper bonsais. This is part of the interdunal swale community, a fresh-water wetland that occurs within dunes, rare both locally and globally.
There are two trails, a 1.6-mile-loop and an out-and-back flat path direct to the shore (we’ve done the latter with small kids and the elderly). The small parking lot is for Suffolk County residents but that doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced. Alternatively, look for pull outs along the road. Nearby Love Lane in Mattituck has some good snack options, notably the Village Cheese Shop and North Fork Donut Company.
We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us.
D.A. Schulman is a writer and poet who lives in New York City. He is a BFA graduate from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. He is currently working on his first book. You can view more of his work on Instagram and Facebook.