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A Youth Movement For Manhattan's Community Boards: 6 New Teen Members

 Several 16- and 17-year-olds have joined Manhattan's Community Boards thanks to a new city council law.
Teens on CB Boards
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MANHATTAN — A new teen trend has hit Manhattan: joining the community board.

At ages 16 and 17, six of the newest members of Manhattan’s Community Boards are also now their youngest.

Thanks to a new state law passed last year, 16-and 17-year-olds are officially allowed to apply and serve on the boards, which play an advisory, but often powerful role, in shaping a variety of community issues, like zoning, liquor licensing and land use.

On Manhattan’s Community Board 1 — which covers Lower Manhattan neighborhoods including TriBeCa, Battery Park City, the Financial District and the South Street Seaport — 17-year-old Susan Wu headed to her first committee meeting earlier this month, and said she was excited, though a bit nervous.

“It’s really interesting to see how much thought and discussion goes into every issue brought before the board,” said Wu, a junior at competitive public high school Stuyvesant and a resident of Battery Park City. “I think it’s a great chance for me to offer a different perspective, but also learn what it really means to be involved in shaping your neighborhood."

In Manhattan, there are 12 community boards, with 50 members each, who serve staggered two-year terms. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer who, along with local city councilmembers, appoint people to the board, said they received about 25 applicants from 16- and-17-year-olds across the borough.

Brewer has been a longtime champion for bringing younger members onto the boards.

“Through a long career in public service I’ve met countless young people who are absolutely up to the challenge of Community Board membership,” Brewer said. “Community Boards help us plan our neighborhoods’ future — to do that right, you need a broad range of perspectives. Adding young people to the boards brings a crucial missing voice to the table, and no one has a bigger stake in our city’s future than our young people.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the teens now sitting on Manhattan Community Boards are, like Wu, rather high achievers, and many see themselves possibly running for office one day.

Along with her new civic duties, Wu is also on her school’s robotics team, swimming and diving team, writes for the school newspaper and is chair of her school’s board of elections.

While she doesn’t necessarily see herself pursuing public service when she gets older — finance or computer science may be more likely — she said participating on a community board seemed like a special opportunity for a young person.

Wu said she thinks she may be able to add valuable input on school and education issues and the way new construction in Battery Park city is affecting the neighborhoods' younger residents.

What attracted 16-year-old Zoe Markowitz, an Upper East Sider, to join Community Board 8, was the feeling that she would have a real chance to shape the neighborhood she lives in — and wield some influence in the adult world.

“Usually as a teenager, you can’t really have actual power, but this is a way to make a direct impact on the community,” she said. “It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Mahfuzur Rahman, 16, from East Harlem, said he got the thrill of helping to make change when he popped into a Community Board 11 meeting before he was recently appointed.

“I talked about how we needed more lights on a block right by a subway, because it seemed too dark when you were walking off at night,” Rahman said. “I notice now the lights are brighter over there, and it feels like, wow, maybe I helped in a small way make my neighborhood a little better.”

Rahman, a sophomore at the Brooklyn Latin School, said he also hopes to encourage positive development in East Harlem.

Sarah Shamoon, a 16-year-old who's lived in Stuy Town her whole life, and a new member on CB6, said she thinks adding younger people to community boards is "one of the greatest things our city can have."

"As teenagers, we really hang out in the neighborhoods of the city, we really know our neighborhoods," she said. "We're the youth, we're the future of New York — and I want to help create the New York that I want to live in."