We do not hear enough about the importance of civic engagement and the advantages it has for communities. Very often, it seems as though decisions that are made for communities do not actually involve the voices they home.
So, what is civic engagement? Any political or non-political action that is taken by someone in order to bring about a positive change to society or their community.
There are so many layers and paths of being civically engaged that it can actually intimidate residents from wanting to be involved altogether. In the New York City area, it is especially overwhelming with having a large population. However, there can be help navigating through it. All neighborhoods have a community board. These democratically run groups are ideally the foundation of all planning that takes place in NYC. The changes that they are typically involved with include local decisions like new construction projects, positive change for the community, or even safety enforcement.
Community boards are not responsible for reaching out to residents though, it is quite the opposite. If someone is passionate enough about something, they need to do research on how they can get involved in order to carry out the change they want to see. Following community boards are councilpersons. Each district in the NYC has an elected person for this position who is responsible for representing their district on a local, city level. Similarly to how a Congress person represents their district federally.
You can contact your councilperson in regard to a problem you notice in your community or a difference you would like to make. They will either lead you in the right direction as to how you can make it happen, or you just might find out you are the one to create the path to change. Nonetheless, finding resources betters your chances and you cannot do that without engagement.
The main benefits of civic engagement include…
- enhancing the quality of life for society, the local community, and generations to come.
- developing access to resources and distributing those resources to the public.
- creating confidence as a community/society instead of individuals out for their own self-interests.
- motivating communities to further partake in community involvement, thus continuing the cycle of positive change.
A perfect example of community involvement is the public meeting that was held for the discussion of NYC’s Orchard Beach‘s Pavilion Restoration recently. This well-known beach in the Bronx was first opened in 1936 and has not seen any construction since. It has been in desperate need of infrastructural attention for years. The pavilion restoration was jumpstarted by a $10 million initiative taken by the Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., and that has now grown to $60 million thanks to other contributors.
The Bronxites that came out to be apart of this meeting participated by asking questions and talking over what they would like to see at Orchard Beach as well as what they would not like to see. Although improvements are absolutely necessary for a beach that has 1.5 million visitors a year, it is imperative to see what will be most functional and useful for the community. If it is not practical for the beach’s users then it will not be an effective and successful restoration for the community… that is the exact reason why civic engagement is highly valuable.
Getting involved locally is the most direct way you can begin to make an impact. Not only does could it change lives locally, but it may change futures for some and that is an amazing power and influence to have.
If you are an interested Bronxite who missed this public meeting, you may still be able to give your opinion of what you would like to see (or not see) at Orchard Beach. Click here to fill out the online survey provided by NYC Parks.