New York City’s Community Boards Neighborhood Governance and Activism

In a metropolis of 8.5 million residents, it’s not surprising that it takes an awful lot of people in a lot of departments and organizations to keep New York City government running smoothly. Some of those people (the mayor, for instance) are household names while others are perhaps less well known. The members of the city’s community boards fall into the second category but the work they do for the city and its residents is no less important than that of the mayor or the city council.

Let’s Hear it for the Board

There are 59 community boards in New York City—12 in Manhattan alone—each established by city charter in the early 1960s as a way for citizens to become more directly involved in local politics. Over the years—once in 1975 and again in 1989—the charter was updated to give the city’s community boards more influence and input as to how their individual neighborhoods are governed.

Each community board consists of up to 50 unsalaried members, all of whom are appointed by the borough president. The borough president chooses half the members based on nominations by the district’s city council representative, and half by personally identifying active, committed community members who would be an asset to the community board.

In order to be considered for a community board position, one must live, work, or have some vested interest in the administration and governance of the neighborhood. Once appointed, community board members’ responsibilities include coordinating municipal service delivery and land use, advocating on behalf of their neighborhood for allocation of city funds, and deciding on community welfare and quality-of-life issues, such as approving liquor licenses for bars and clubs wishing to move into the area.

Community board members serve staggered terms to prevent them from totally turning over within a single year. City employees can serve on their own community board but the number of city workers eligible to serve is limited to no more than 25 percent of the total number of board members. City Council members are also automatic community board members, though they do not vote in that capacity.

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