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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