Committees for different downtown neighborhoods meet monthly
The accomplishments of Community Board No. 1 (CB1) are underappreciated. It’s not that people don’t know about its work to create new schools and libraries and green spaces, or its mediation between downtown residents, business owners, city agencies, and others. But because the board is involved with virtually all matters south of Canal Street, it can be easy to take for granted the extent of its involvement.
New York City community boards are, in essence, the voices of local citizens. Added to the city charter in 1975 after two decades as “community-planning” councils, there are 59 community boards in the five boroughs, 12 of those in Manhattan. Each is comprised of 50 volunteer members, appointed by the borough president in part through City Council nominations.
Community board members typically are neighborhood residents and businesspeople, as well as those with “significant interest” in a particular community. City officials rely on boards to advise on land-use and zoning matters, assess local budgetary needs, and generally address the concerns of their respective neighborhoods, no matter how great or mundane.
From its office at 49-51 Chambers Street, CB1 has the particular challenge of serving the neighborhoods still recovering from 9/11. Its jurisdiction stretches from river to river, south of Canal Street to Centre Street and then generally south of Pearl Street to the Brooklyn Bridge. That means that the scores of development projects taking place in the Financial District, Tribeca, Battery Park City, and at the World Trade Center must be considered by its members for their impacts on the community.
At CB1, dedication is key. Fourteen different committees meet monthly to focus on particular neighborhoods, small business, landmarks, waterfront, youth and education, and more. The board is also involved in lobbying for quality-of-life initiatives on behalf of its stakeholders.
A handful of CB1 members have proven great longevity, addressing downtown’s pressing issues since Ed Koch was mayor. CB1 District Manager Paul Goldstein is one of those long-termers, running CB1 practically since it was founded. A resident of Southbridge Towers in the Seaport area, he oversees the board’s business matters with a staff of three including one position currently funded by a grant from the American Red Cross.
“We have sort of been able to put our imprint on the neighborhood and turn it into what we had in mind,” Goldstein says of his tenure with the board. That imprint is exemplified through many tangible achievements, such as creation of Public Schools 89 and 234 and Battery Park City’s little league ball fields, establishment of the New Amsterdam Public Library on Murray Street, and the restoration of Washington Market Park in Tribeca.
The list goes on and on, and Goldstein notes that many of these milestones are the result of “give backs” by developers whose projects require slight exceptions to zoning laws. For example, when a new tower exceeds size or spacing laws and its owner comes to the community board as part of the Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), the board can negotiate for the benefit of its community.
Such collaboration puts CB1 in direct contact with many city agencies, City Hall, the police department, and the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, making Goldstein and his colleagues liaisons for the many different demographics they represent -- people of all ages, ethnicities, family sizes, income levels, and, of course, the business communities.
“We’re both an advocacy group and a group that sort of passes judgment on all different types of applications and initiatives in Lower Manhattan,” says Goldstein. “Everything from 75-story buildings that are going up in the neighborhood to whether to put a traffic light on the corner or to let [someone] open a restaurant here -- so it runs the gamut.”
One of the board’s greatest tasks at the moment is reviewing the many elements of the World Trade Center redevelopment, for which it has a large, dedicated committee. Meeting monthly at State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s hearing room at 250 Broadway, the committee regularly hears updates on environmental issues at the site, plans for new towers and transportation networks, and retail development under consideration for years to come.
Also among its expansive, multi-faceted agenda, CB1 sponsors and synchronizes street fairs and events, conducts surveys and polls, conveys complaints to appropriate parties, and lobbies for amenities to serve its neighborhoods, such as retail and cultural centers. Governors Island also is part of CB1’s district, giving it yet another opportunity to help shape a major piece of city land for the benefit of its constituents and the city as a whole.
“We recognize that there are different audiences with different needs,” Goldstein says. “We want to make sure that the things we’re advocating for are the things that people want.”
To get involved with Community Board No. 1 or to subscribe to its email list, visit www.cb1.org.