One of the roles played by the city’s 59 community boards—besides issuing liquor licenses—is to oversee local planning issues, and while the input of the board is only advisory, it tends to weigh in the decision making of the City Planning Commission (as was the case at Hudson Yards earlier this week) and the City Council. The only problem is, the boards have no professional planners on staff. Manhattan has been blessed with a great deal of help the past three years, however, thanks to a fellowship program begun by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and today he announced it will hopefully be expanding to the entire city by next year.
Stringer is no stranger to the plight of the community boards, as he joined his when he was still a teenager, and empowering the boards has been a central issue on his agenda. (Like the boards, the borough president’s job is as much advocacy and ceremony as it is real executive power, at least since the dissolution of the Board of Estimates in 1989.) Upon taking office in 2006, Stringer launched his Planning Fellowship Program to help place planning students from the surrounding universities—Pratt, Columbia, Hunter, City College, Rutgers, NYU, and the New School—with the 12 community boards in Manhattan. While their work was part time, they helped out with technical challenges, research, and special projects that even the boards’ land-use experts struggled with or lacked the time to execute, as highlighted in a story we wrote the following year.
This year, two Brooklyn boards—Fort Greene and Park Slope—have picked up fellows, and Stringer, with the backing of the Bloomberg administration, which controls his and the boards’ budgets, said today at a press conference that he hopes to have fellows in every board in all five boroughs by the start of the next academic year. Starting this year, the program is no longer run out of the planning department of his office but at Hunter College, which has been the lead partner on it since day one.
“With all that my office has accomplished since becoming Borough President, I can honestly say that the Community Planning Fellowship Program is one of our proudest achievements to date,” Stringer said in a release. “Not only has the Program focused new attention on what should be the primary role of community boards—neighborhood-based planning—but it has also helped shift the focus of a new generation of professional urban planners toward a real understanding of how community members, local government and land use experts interact and engage in discussions about the future shape of our city.”
And while we’re happy the hear the program is expanding, it can’t happen fast enough. After all, just look at the areas being served—Manhattan and two of Brooklyn’s toniest neighborhoods—and it becomes clear that those boards still in need of the most help have yet to receive it.