Wiki Wednesday: Community Boards

This week’s featured StreetsWiki article is a detailed history of New York City community boards, by Lily Bernheimer. Evolving from then-Manhattan Borough President Robert F. Wagner’s "Community Planning Councils" of the 1950s, the citywide system as we know it was established in 1975.

CBgrab.jpgIdeally, community boards act to "foster community-based planning," but the very nature of the appointment process has often made them susceptible to top-down interference — a reality that has more than once had an impact on the livable streets movement.

Board members are intended to convey community interests to their
borough president (often in opposition to business or development), and
yet are entirely beholden to him or her for their appointment. C.
Virginia Fields served as Manhattan Borough President during her 2005
campaign for Mayor and was accused of "using her community board
appointments as a kind of political club, selecting people who
supported her in her race and firing those who did not." Still worse, in
May of 2007 Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz "purged" Community Board 6 of nine members who had voted against the Atlantic Yards development
he supports. After an even more dramatic purge of Bronx CB6
surrounding the Yankees Stadium proposal, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion
was quoted to have said, "My very clear expectation is that these
appointees are there to carry out a vision for the borough president
and the leadership of this borough, and that’s simply what I expect."

That said, as the entry notes, community boards are not without their success stories, even though they are limited to an advisory role. And if nascent efforts to reform the system take hold, the future may yield more benefits than setbacks.

In the meantime, this entry could benefit from a section on community boards and livable streets. There’s certainly plenty of material. If you’re game, the first step is setting up a Livable Streets account

  • “My very clear expectation is that these appointees are there to carry out a vision for the borough president”

    His “very clear expectation” is very clearly wrong. Well thankfully he’s moving on up to DC; maybe he’ll find a different circle of yes-men there.

  • The wiki article doesn’t make the distinction that the Bronx CB’s vote in the Yankee’s Stadium proposal was part of Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), while Brooklyn CB6’s vote was a purely symbolic declaration that accompanied the organization’s comments submitted for the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

    CB6 had no standing or skin in this fight and was merely lending the board’s expertise and passion for planning issues on behalf of the community. Therefore Brooklyn CB6’s vote would only have been a small footnote in the history of the Atlantic Yards fight, if not for Markowitz’s dramatic action.

  • joe

    The CB 13 in Brooklyn is a farce. All they are rubber stamps for Councilmen Domenic ” Southampton ” Recchia and Mike ” Pay to Play” Nelson. Between the both of them they ruined the quality of life for the residents of Coney Island & Brighton Beach. Both of them together with the BP purge the CB members that go against the grain or their policies. It’s as corrupt as the City Council .

  • Thanks for this posting.
    As a relative newcomer to NYC (6 years), I never understand the community boards. The structure seems redundant with the city council districts.

    I come from Chicago, which of course has it own legendary problem. But there the land use issues are done basically by approval of the city council representative, the Alderman/woman. It is not a law but an unwritten agreement in a one party town.

    It some ways this works, because at least you get to elect the Alderman/women directly.

    Does anyone know why this ULURP process is not done at the council level?


City Council Reso Calls for Community Board Term Limits and Transparency

A resolution brewing in the City Council recommends major reform for community boards. Introduced by freshman City Council Member Ben Kallos, the reso calls for board members to serve a maximum of five consecutive two-year terms, and for unspecified term limits for board and committee chairs. It also recommends a transparent appointment process and highly publicized, […]

What the Manhattan BP Candidates Said About Bike-Share Last Night

Borough presidents have limited power, but the influence they wield can still make a big difference for livable streets, especially by making community board appointments and weighing in during the city’s land use review process. The four Democratic candidates for Manhattan borough president — City Council members Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson, and Jessica Lappin, plus former Community […]