Historical Perspective of Community Boards

The adoption of the 1975 City Charter, which gave the city’s Community Boards a formal role in decisions on land use, in the preparation of the capital and expense budgets and in the monitoring of local service delivery, marked the culmination of twenty-five years of experimentation with neighborhood governance. The experiment began in 1951, when Robert F. Wagner, then Manhattan Borough President, established twelve “Community Planning Councils.” The Councils, consisting of 15 to 20 members each, were charged with advising the Borough President on planning and budgetary matters.

The 1963 City Charter, adopted during Wagner’s third term as Mayor, extended the neighborhood governance concept to the other boroughs, establishing 'Community Planning Boards' throughout the city. Eventually, these came to be known simply as 'Community Boards.'

While the role of Community Boards in local planning had its genesis in Wagner’s 1951 initiative, their role in monitoring service delivery can be traced to the 'Little City Halls' established on an experimental basis in just a few Community Districts by former Mayor John Lindsay. These outposts were headed by a 'District Manager' appointed by the Mayor to oversee the delivery of City services in the district. Among the District Manager’s specific duties was chairing a 'Service Cabinet' comprised of officers of varying rank from key City agencies. Today the District Manager has much the same role, but is selected by the Community Board rather than the Mayor.

Community Boards today represent a blending of the Wagner Community Planning Councils and the Lindsay 'Little City Halls.' The issues the Boards deal with are as varied as the communities they represent, from studying the impact of a multi-million dollar waterfront development proposal to getting a 'No Parking' sign replaced.

In 1989, the voters of New York City ratified new Charter provisions, changing how City government deals with the budget, land-use matters, and service delivery. The Community Board’s important roles in all of these areas were either expanded or reaffirmed by the new Charter.

"HOW COMMUNITY BOARDS EVOLVED." Handbook for Community Board Members (2010): page 13.