Opinion: Apply to Choose 

Racioppo graphic Feb 7 2023

The deadline for applying for membership on Brooklyn Community Boards is on Feb. 23. So spread love the Brooklyn way and apply soon!

Biggie references aside, if you’re over 16 and live in Brooklyn, you really should; here’s why. 

I’m sure some reading read the previous paragraph and thought“, “What is a Community Board (CB)?”. So, before the “Why,” the “What.” CBs are the official advisory body of the City Government. They are divided into districts of over 100k residents encompassing one or more neighborhoods and  and organized by number(CB1, CB2, CB3). There are 59 CBs citywide and 18 in Brooklyn. CBs have up to 50 members appointed by the Borough President and members of the City Council. CBs make recommendations to City and State agencies and the legislatures on policy issues including, but not limited to, transportation and street safety, parks, budgets, liquor licenses, landmarks, land use, and zoning. If that description convinced you to apply, do it now. If unconvinced, keep reading.

Brooklyn, like any jurisdiction, whether a city, country, or continent, exists due to policy choices. If different policy choices had been made, Brooklyn wouldn’t be part of New York City. But, of course, not everything is a choice;  the East River existing wasn’t a choice, but building the Brooklyn Bridge was.

Now it’s unlikely that you’ll be asked to weigh in on whether to build one of the most famous bridges on the planet, but the choices CBs make can be consequential. That may mean better bike lines that save lives and zoning choices that create affordable housing enabling more people to remain in, or come to, Brooklyn and call it home.  Writing in this paper, Borough President Reynoso cited the work CB6 did for the Gowanus rezoning as an example of how a board with the soft power of thoughtful advice can work to shape and effect change and why you should apply.

CBs are not perfect by a long shot. What institution is? They’ve often represented what communities have been instead of what they are and ought to become. Often there has been a bias for an imagined and sanitized past or a complacency with the present.  That has sometimes resulted in choices that are biased toward catering to the interests of those who are well-situated, don’t need affordable housing, or haven’t searched for an apartment because they bought houses decades ago at now unfathomably low sums. It can also just overrepresent people with the luxury of not having to work at night when meetings take place or needing or being able to afford childcare that allows someone to dedicate themselves to such a civic endeavor. 

Thankfully this is starting to change. I see it firsthand as the District Manager of CB6. We had 16 new members appointed to the board by Borough President Reynoso,  Council Members Aviles, Hanif, and Restler. Those 16 included a broader mix of views with active young progressives such as DSA-endorsed Brandon West and District Leader Jacqui Painter. Also,  women now constitute the majority of our CB6 board officers, and a plurality of board officers are women of color.

Even as diversity is improving, some would rather shrug and ignore CBs. That doesn’t diminish the impact of the board’s recommendations. There’s no perfect government or utopia in our future, but no matter what, choices, for better or worse, are always being made, even if only by inaction.  Apply to your CB to actively contribute to those choices because, as Brooklynite Howard Zinn said,  “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

P.S to apply, go to bit.ly/2023bkcbapp

Mike Racioppo is the District Manager of Community Board 6.