When New Yorkers become dissatisfied with how their neighborhoods are turning out, such as with the sudden plethora of skyscrapers that have popped up obstructing their view, or when they are not fans of the newly imposed bike lanes, this is where a community board steps into play by liaising between the community looking for improvement or change and the government agencies or developers. Typically, these boards are made up of the 50 or so neighborhood denizens who pay rent or own their homes—that is, until now. There are now plans to change the age limit for community boards from 18 to 16 to allow for the neighborhood youth to take part on the boards.
Newly elected Councilman Ben Kallos has created a bill that would lower the age for community board members in hopes of encouraging more youth to take part in their community’s decision-making process and represent a segment of New York City that we rarely actually hear from in the political sense.
“Around 20 percent of New Yorkers are under the age of 18, and allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to serve on community boards will help ensure their voices get heard,” Kallos told Gothamist.
Concerned with the lack of community participation from the city’s youth, he argues that they are often tried and imprisoned as adults, but they can’t use a legal venue to voice their opinion on improving their own communities. Kallos is making this movement in honor of former Manhattan borough president and current city comptroller, Scott Stringer, who, as an exception, served on his Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood community board when he was 16. He is the model for the bill in which Kallos emphasizes Stringer’s early start in having a voice, which in turn led him to a successful political career.
“One problem that I think we have as a society is that we don’t allow young people to become civically engaged,” Kallos told DNAInfo. “By the time they are old enough to participate, they may be frustrated by their lack of empowerment. By doing this early, we can set people on that path of civic engagement.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer voiced her opinion on the topic at a recent council hearing, reiterating the problem that out of Manhattan’s numerous boards only six percent of members were between the ages of 18 and 24 years old. “I have worked with hundreds of interns over the years and have seen firsthand the meaningful role that young people can play in shaping policy and enhancing our neighborhoods,” she said.