2014-08-28 / Telling It Like It Is

Telling It Like It Is

Trying To Plant A Few Good Seeds In Our Community’s Weeds
By Dara Mormile

Teenagers aren’t expected to have too much life experience. Their teen years serve as a time where they make a lot of major decisions – which career to pursue, which circle of friends fits their character and how to deal with problems on a case-to-case basis. Based on social networking news, teens are into themselves (and their “selfies”) and no one is really thinking about how their reputation will taint or determine the course of their future.

Many teens aren’t concerned with making the right decisions for their community. The ones who make the news are toting guns, knives and other weapons…they’re bullying their peers and robbing their neighbors… Some of them participated in the cowardly “knockout” game that left hundreds of seniors – among other residents – injured and feeling unsafe while walking the streets.

Self-discipline and respect is one thing “these kids today” lack. Does anyone believe that if they served on a community board that they’d change their ways? How many teens out there would actually volunteer their services, creativity and time – on a regular basis – to helping make a difference with a city agency? Although a bill was recently signed into law that would allow 16 and 17 year olds to serve on community boards, we have to ask ourselves: Is that a smart legislative move that will change our teens or our community? What will really motivate them to get them involved? And are teens experienced enough to be able to make decisions along with residents who have years – perhaps decades – of knowledge about “the system” under their belt? We have thousands of older residents who don’t want to join the board – and if they do, they get frustrated because “nothing gets done.”

Community Board 18 recently announced that legislature allowing younger teens to serve was recently signed into law. The proposal was first introduced in the State Legislature in 2008. City Council passed a resolution this year in favor of the bill. It’s exciting to think that a fresh, young mind can now join the ranks of the older folk who have been serving on these boards for years.

I’ve already written about the standard function behind community boards – they’re strictly advisory and only in SOME cases do their members’ protests and concerns get heard. Persistence is key unless a building or community project is already underway and an agency is simply bringing their project to the board because it’s mandated by law.

Borough President Eric Adams’ office reached out to me to rebut my opinion. The press secretary claimed the BP wanted to write an editorial on how beneficial Community Boards are to the public and how influential they truly are in daily operations. I’m still waiting for that letter… However, I don’t think including teens in community board processes will inject a “fresh” outlook on the city organization. Here is a brief list of reasons why community boards might NOT attract the younger crowd:

They’reDigitized:” It’s a great thing to network and get everyone on board with a project. Social media has helped connect a lot of people who can now spread the word to the masses about something important in their community. If you watch the news – or look on most teens’ social media posts, it’s mostly about their lives, their feelings, their friends and showing where/what they’re eating, drinking and hanging out (Don’t you love those photos of their hands holding an iced coffee or martini at their favorite café?) How many of these kids really care about their block or changing the quality of life in their community? Most teens aren’t using social media to get their peers to vote or to try to resolve that pothole issue they’ve been facing for weeks. Understandably concerned with school, getting into college and convincing their parents they’re responsible, teens have a lot of social distractions and obligations that don’t include scrutinizing the details of district lines and building codes.

Complex terminology isn’t for everyone: Teens have to learn terms, formulas and formats for all of their academic projects. Most will say they’re relieved when school is over and they don’t have to read or write papers. Asking a teen in today’s day and age to learn what a “variance” or “As of Right project” means encourages them to open their minds to more learning that might not seem so…attractive. It might be a big yawn to some teens if they have to read about “manufacturing zones” versus “commercial zones.” More homework anyone?

It’s all about real-life experience! True, some community board meetings are heated and residents really let it fly when they’re upset about something going on. These are the best meetings to attend! Why are these residents upset? They’re homeowners, longtime residents and business owners whose lives were tossed upside down! If you go to a community board meeting where they’re discussing water bills, mortgages and the technicalities of street repairs, there’s going to be a lot of retirees, professionals and taxpayers who have “lived on that block for years.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but most 16, 17 and 18 year olds have never owned a home, business, paid rent or had to deal with the Sanitation or the Police Department to resolve an outstanding issue. That’s stuff they leave for their parents/family to deal with! Other than simply sitting in on meetings and absorbing other people’s experiences, teens won’t know or experience the frustration of dealing with legal issues until they’re much older. Also, many are making the most important life decisions in their late teens – they might want to go away to college, get a job outside of the community and move elsewhere. We need stable individuals and residents on our community boards…people who will see their neighborhood through all of its changes, transformations and transitions.

What’s a good idea for teens who do have an interest in politics and civics? How about strengthening and promoting Youth Committees on every community board? How about tapping into the interest of teens who have political and civic aspirations? Sorry to say, but not many of these teens exist – or you’d see more of them at community meetings trying to “make a difference.”

Let’s get real! Including teens in the general population of older community board members will drown out their concerns as young residents are facing an array of their own issues. Mary’s decades-old house has cracks on its side because of construction next door….but Catherine is going to a high school where kids get into brawls every day and she wants the issue addressed by educators. Community boards are great – when they function for the public and produce change that’s needed. You can’t deny that different groups have different needs and there’s too much proof that age is more than just a number.

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