Ask a Reporter is an occasional series about civic engagement in and around the city. Do you have a question about how you can make a difference in your neighborhood, city or state? What about voting, the elections or navigating civic life in New York? Ask us! We want to help you get involved by answering your questions.
Q: Is there an online calendar that lists all public meetings?
A: Unfortunately, the answer to this, our most popular question so far, is no. Maybe this is a sign that someone should build this tool. After all, there’s a world of civic engagement beyond voting or protesting. Real democracy, the political scientist Frank M. Bryan has said, “takes place in public in real time.”
Let’s say you want to get a stop sign on your block—or keep a 40-story building from casting a shadow over the Brooklyn Botanical Garden or are angry about the honking cars in your neighborhood—you don't usually get to vote on those things. However, you can certainly voice your opinion about those issues by attending community meetings.
Before you can do that, though, you'll have to know when and where they are, ideally well in advance in case you need to arrange childcare or leave work early.
Raul Contreras, Deputy Press Secretary at City Hall, says he isn’t aware of any central hub online to keep track of the various public meetings held across the city. But he does have some tips.
To start, Contreras suggests that people follow the City’s social media accounts, where dates of town halls and public meetings are regularly published. New Yorkers can also check out the Community Affairs Unit’s website, which lists schedules of community boards across the city and their upcoming events. We’ll link to the schedules we found online below.
Still, without a comprehensive calendar to follow, you have your work cut out for you. No matter where you live, your neighborhood lies within the jurisdiction of at least six different public offices: the Governor, the State Senate, the State Assembly, the City Council, the Mayor and your local community board. And community board meetings can get pretty spicy:
Broadening civic engagement is something the city takes seriously, says Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Phillip Thompson. And while he agreed that logistics are important, he says participating in the democratic process requires more work. “The problem is not just one of people not knowing, it’s also one of people not having the time and resources and depth of understanding.”
And this seems to be where the city’s priorities lie. New initiatives like Democracy NYC and the Public Engagement Unit are focused, respectively, on bolstering civic education programs in schools and connecting New Yorkers with city services.
Make no mistake, that’s encouraging. It’s also encouraging that the City Charter Review Commission approved a measure just this week to come up with ways to centralize public information about opportunities for civic engagement. For now, though, the task of creating a central hub for public meetings is up in the air.
Here are the calendars we found. If you know of any others, please add them, in the comments below.
New York City Council: http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx
New York State Senate: https://www.nysenate.gov/events
New York State Assembly: http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?sh=he
For Community Boards, your best bet is the Community Affairs Unit’s website: http://www.nyc.gov/html/cau/html/cb/cb.shtml
What questions do you have about civic participation in New York City that you’d like us to answer? Share them in the prompt below and we'll work to answer as many as we can.