Community Planning and a Need for Increase in Diversity for Community Boards

It is often debated on the impact a community has on the outcome of their own neighborhood or the power of the people to control their own city.  After all, public involvement is what democracy is built on.  As seen in Tom Agnotti’s excerpt, “From Protest to Community Plan” in his book New York For Sale, The Cooper Square committee, comprised of the residents of the Lower East Side, and their allies managed to dictate what a portion of the land in the Upper East Side would look like and on their terms, not the governments or the terms of developers. In the same way the New York Times article, “Greater Diversity Sought for New York City’s Community Boards” outlines the importance of community boards through cases where they have in fact made an impact in community planning.   The article not only vouches  for participation by residents in community boards but also for the increase in diversity of the publicly appointed board members themselves to include those that Agnotti calls the “few” in his chapter, “Community Planning for the Few.”  The article provides a nice summary for the two points brought up in Agnotti’s chapters.

In Agnotti’s first chapter he applauds the ability of a community to get what they want through assembly and protest.  In the article the same was shown to be true with community boards.  Not many people are informed of community boards or the impact they may have.  Although it is true that community boards are limited in power, (which should not be the case) the article highlights a case where community boards voted against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to rezone neighborhoods to allow taller buildings and more development.  This is a big achievement for community boards which are thought to only be a space where residents come to express their complaints yet get nothing out of it except for a place to vent.

In Agnotti’s second chapter, he brings up the concept of “democracy for the few” the “few” meaning those who are on a lower spectrum in society in terms of class, race and gender.  The “few” are oftentimes excluded when it comes to having a voice in community planning which is what the article tries to address by promoting an increase in diversity of community board members that are appointed by the public.  For example, Flushing in Queens has recently become  an “Asian enclave” yet their community board members are predominately white and do not represent the demographic of the community.  Oftentimes, this lack of proper representation is due to a lack of public knowledge about community boards in general but also a lack of knowledge on who is appointed to represent the community in the boards.  The board chairs are usually held by those who have close ties to higher government and usually prolong their term as board members by getting reappointed every time their term ends.  To end this Councilman Torres is proposing a bill that will require basic information about board members to be publicly displayed such as their neighborhood, employer and occupation as well as attendance records and tenure on the board. This is all in the hopes that  the community boards are indicative of the demographics of the neighborhood and will become more diverse if a problem with the trend in appointed board members is seen.  This is a small attempt to solve Agnotti’s problem of community building for the view by ensuring that the players in the growth machine do not outweigh those who actually inhabit and are impacted by changes in their neighborhood.



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