July 2017
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CITI Youth Goes Downtown

community board panel stage

The Municipal Art Society is pleased to welcome Manhattan Community Board 1 (MN CB1) and high school students Alina Lee and Karen Wang to the CITI Youth program. MN CB1, which covers Lower Manhattan and Tribeca is an ideal place for students to engage with real-life planning issues. And this new team of interns has been working very hard to understand the nature of New York City’s local government, develop new mapping skills, and exchange information with other students in the program as they learn about community planning.

The CITI Youth program is part of MAS’ Community Information Technology Initiative (CITI), which provides community boards and community-based organizations with maps, data, and technical assistance to support local planning efforts.  Students from local high schools develop Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skills. This mapping portal, developed by MAS and now hosted in partnership with the City of New York , provides access to detailed property data. Students use the website to call up maps of sites under discussion at community boards meetings. But each board (the program is now active in 20 community boards across the city) has distinct mapping needs, and in the case of MN CB1, this CITI Youth team is taking the program to new heights.

slide community board 1

At their first community board meeting, Alina and Karen provided detailed information about individual properties under consideration for various reasons, including liquor license and sidewalk café applications, as well as historic preservation concerns. MN CB1 conducts its business through committees that focus on different geographic areas, i.e., WTC Redevelopment; Tribeca; Battery Park City; Financial District; Seaport/Civic Center; and Waterfront. Each committee reports to the full board, and it is sometimes difficult to track all of the land use information, even at just a single board meeting. By the second meeting, and at the board’s request, Alina and Karen were already providing a new map that could serve as a comprehensive, visual record of all of the committee’s discussions that evening, replete with aerial photographs. These visuals, now a permanent part of the board’s public record, can go a long way in helping the board review specific applications, while simultaneously tracking broader land use trends.

Michael Levine, CB1’s Director of Land Use and Planning, said he was “very appreciative” of the students work, and impressed with the way their assistance helped the board to focus its discussion. He was also impressed with the students’ capacity to transcend the usual CITI mapping services and produce customized cartography. Kasey LaFlam, CB1’s Urban Planning Fellow (a graduate urban planning student from Columbia University appointed by Borough President Scott Stringer to assist the board), agreed that the program is very beneficial, and has volunteered to serve as a community liaison to support the CITI Youth at these meetings.  She said, “Their maps were very helpful and the board members were impressed with having this new technology at the meeting.”

community board panel stage audience

Both Levine and LaFlam said they look forward to working with MAS to expand the students’ role in future meetings. While the students are still figuring out ways to improve the effectiveness of their presentations, and having fun designing interactive ideas to remind presenters of the three-minute rule that governs the public session—they are very proud to be working with a board that has welcomed them with generous acknowledgements. And they can feel particularly good about their work when, as was the case at this month’s meeting, a board member interrupts the meeting to yell, “Wow, what a great map!”