Community Engagement

How can the next mayor empower residents to have a more meaningful voice in the future of their neighborhoods?


The inequitable distribution of recent rezonings and the longstanding impacts of urban renewal and racist planning policies have led to deep distrust toward city government. Although the 1989 City Charter Revision increased the role of community representation in planning decisions, critics argue the current process lacks authenticity, accountability, and true democratic representation from residents. Although dozens of independent community-led efforts like 197-a plans have been created since the Charter Revision, they are seen as advisory and are often shelved. Except for the rare town hall meeting, there are very few opportunities for New Yorkers to co-create long-term visions for their neighborhoods and citywide development.

  1. 7.

    Bring everyone to the table by demanding greater participation from residents of every age, race, and income.

    • Challenge: Participation in the planning process from diverse communities is overshadowed by residents with the means and time for unpaid work, with white and male residents often overrepresented on community boards.

    • Explore new models to democratize community leadership and decision-making.

    • Acknowledge community expertise from the very beginning of every project, meeting, or exercise.

  2. 8.

    Embrace new engagement tools to listen to far more New Yorkers.

    • Challenge: The city's current approach to listening tours and project-specific town hall meetings only gather the most vocal voices, rather than represent the interests of every New Yorker. Limited opportunities to engage mean that many feel the only way to have agency in their neighborhood is through opposition.

    • Embrace high-tech tools to expand access to information and encourage participation from younger residents.

    • Embrace low-tech tools to hear from communities typically excluded from the planning process like working class parents and women of color.

    • Provide centralized, physical spaces for co-designing and community planning that are accessible by foot in each Community Board District.

    Case Study

    Austin, TX – Conversation Corps
  3. 9.

    Invest in people who can assist residents in shaping neighborhood planning on an ongoing basis.

    • Challenge: Public participation in our current planning process requires people to volunteer after hours, restricting many working adults, families with children, disabled individuals and others from taking part. Many neighborhoods also face the challenge of navigating the complex zoning, planning, and design process, while fighting to valorize their community knowledge.

    • Invest in recurring community engagement and technical assistance in every neighborhood outside of neighborhood rezonings.

    • Invest in community experts and leaders to help build trust with residents.

    Case Study

    London — Public Practice

These recommendations are authored by Urban Design Forum. We thank our advisors who provided helpful insights, suggestions, and guidance throughout the working group process.