Is Community-Based Planning On The Rise In Manhattan?

Opposition to Columbia University's 17-acre expansion plan reveals the good and bad about the city's community planning movement.

"'How would we change New York if we had a magic wand? How wide would the sidewalk be? Why not have districts just for pedestrians? If we could do anything, what would our vision be for the future? What is our dream city a hundred years from now?'

These are some of the questions the former mayor of Bogotá and current celebrity speaker Enrique Peñalosa asked at a conference of city planners and community board members held at Columbia University one year ago. They sounded thrilling to an audience unused to hearing their own local politicians pose such questions. A community planning culture and political process in which New Yorkers are called upon to gather in small groups, discuss the economic, physical and geographic needs of their neighborhoods, and with the help of experts, put together a detailed plan in which these things are competently envisioned seemed farfetched.

Actually, the political framework for just such a process has existed since 1975 when a newly revised city charter called for the creation of 59 community districts, each with a board of residents who, when need be, could propose official plans for "the development, growth, and improvement of the city and [their district]." If reality has been slow to catch up, it's not because the parts and potential aren't there. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer certainly thinks the framework is sound."

Thanks to Sarah Muir

Full Story: Community Board Reform and the Columbia Process

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