Column | February 2023: Hop on your community board

MTA, buses
Local community boards worked with the MTA on the Bronx bus rerouting.
Photo Pablo D. Castillo Jr.

Hello my people! Welcome back to Sanchez Te Cuenta, my column where I, Council Member Pierina Sanchez, share updates on District 14 priorities, citywide concerns and current happenings. I use this platform to write about the many issues impacting our city, from the perspective of a Bronx-born and raised urban planner and elected official.

In this column, I want to share a bit about an often-underrated way to serve as a leader in our communities, get involved in making critical changes for your neighborhood and be an important voice of your community by applying to become a member of your local Bronx community board! This year, applications are available online, in English and Spanish, until March 3. Are you eligible? You can serve on the community board serving the area where you live or where you work. So what exactly do these community boards do?

Deja que te cuente a little bit more about how the community boards started, and how they can transform the very communities we are a part of. 

Back in 1951, when former Mayor Robert F. Wagner was still the Manhattan borough president, he initiated an experiment: Twelve “Community Planning Councils” consisting of 15-20 members were charged with advising the borough president on planning, infrastructure and budgetary issues. Twenty-four years later, this experiment was a success, and in 1975, New York City voters ratified community boards into the City Charter, giving everyday community members a critical role in deciding the city’s capital and expense budgets and monitoring delivery of city services in their respective districts – creating neighborhood governance. I mean, who says we all can’t be the change we wish to see? 

Now, community boards have become beacons for their community since their first ratification. Membership presently stands at 50 people, and community boards are broken down by neighborhoods. For example, in my district, we have the Bronx Community Boards 5, 7 and 8. For CB5, the neighborhoods consist of Fordham, University Heights, Morris Heights and University Heights. Community boards meet at least once a month to fulfill their roles on matters such as advising land use and rezoning, affordable housing developments, street repairs, policing, liquor licenses and street activity permits. 

Additionally, community boards will work closely with city agencies and elected officials to improve and ensure municipal services are delivered. In my district, our community boards have worked with the Metropolitan Transit Authority to address the Bronx bus rerouting project, the development of the Kingsbridge Armory and many land use items. This is just a sliver of some of the important work that community boards do to improve their community. 

But guess what? Many community boards across the Bronx are under-enrolled. This is a missed opportunity! Having stronger community boards is only dependent on having wonderful community members apply. This is why I am dedicating my column this month to implore Bronxites, from our young people to our aging and immigrant communities to apply for and join their local community boards. If it is one thing the Bronx has always had, it is the innovation and compassion of the people who live and work in our borough. We all can play our part to make sure our most local governing body holds accountable the city agencies and elected officials whose responsibility is to deliver adequate services to our community. Take it from me, a proud former member of Bronx CB5!

So, what do you say – want to join your local community board? Anyone who lives or works in the Bronx can apply through the Office of the Bronx Borough President. 

If I have not yet convinced you, then come along with me and my team to the meetings of Community Boards 5, 7 and 8. We are in every meeting and can answer your questions. Let’s all do our part to build our community! 

Pierina Sanchez is the councilmember who represents City Council District 14.