b-roll: Naama thinks about outreach tools for NYC’s Community Boards

Here at OpenPlans, we’re thinking of ways to support aspirational citizen engagement in urban planning. Wouldn’t it be great to give residents an opportunity to initiate planning projects in their neighborhood? Voice their opinion on City plans? Influence the allocation of funds to their community? Contribute to the overall quality of life in their community?

In New York City, people can do all that, and more. The opportunity for meaningful public participation in local government exists. It’s called a Community Board. But, many New Yorkers don’t know about Community Boards, or how they operate.

With nearly 3,000 volunteering members and about 180 staff people, 59 Community Boards have the ability to assist residents who want to make a difference in their neighborhood. The foundation for meaningful public participation exists, but the potential remains unrealized.

How can technology empower Community Boards? We think new tools can complement and strengthen existing methods. Simple tech tools can maximize citizen engagement by improving Community Boards’ visibility, communication, outreach, data collection, and more.

What exactly are these tools? In order to develop an educated answer, we decided to speak with the experts – Community Board Chairs, District Managers, and committee members. So far, I’ve met with fifteen boards throughout the city, and asked them questions about data, outreach, and communications.

Susan Stetzer, District Manager at Manhattan Community Board 3:

The Community Board is a window for the general public to participate in civic processes…the Community Board provides an opportunity to make things happen…the real challenge is to get more people to participate and realize they have the power to do so. New York City is unique in giving this opportunity.

Christine Berthet, transportation committee co-chair at Manhattan Community Board 4:

Community Boards are an old fashioned crowd sourcing body. The larger discussion is, what are the tools for the Community Board of the future?…tools directed at the crowd would be more effective than Community Board specific tools. Crowd sourcing tools will make it easier to mobilize on aspiration.


b-roll is an ongoing series on the OpenPlans blog.

We’ll be giving you updates on in-progress work across our projects, straight from the floor.

Check out our updates so far.