Neighborhood associations

Help rule the roost on your block.

Bar noise, morning construction, parking issues and sorry-looking sidewalk trees. Who you gonna call? Your local neighborhood association, that’s who.

Neighborhood, block and homeowners’ associations address a wide range of issues, from aesthetics to helicopter noise. Yes, the matters can seem a little yawnworthy. For some, “zoning might be very ho-hum,” said Bara Sapir, a member of the Duke Ellington Boulevard Neighborhood Association. “But when major construction is planned across the street from where you live, stirring up dust and rats, increasing traffic, promising noise at wicked early hours and making parking challenging, then it becomes a very real issue.” Shit definitely gets real when the rats show up.

These groups—there are dozens spread throughout the city—are big feather rufflers, often taking stances that pit themselves against powerful area businessmen. The Dumbo Neighborhood Alliance, for instance, has taken an active role in opposing a high-rise that would be built directly adjacent to the Brooklyn Bridge.

In 2006, the Noho Neighborhood Association convened a public meeting to discuss concerns from several groups that the State Liquor Authority was handing out liquor licenses indiscriminately, leading to noise and other disturbing shenanigans. The meeting was attended by members of the SLA, and within a few months the agency had declared a moratorium on new licenses for many Manhattan businesses. The city’s nightlife industry was anything but pleased.

Neighborhood associations are not a part of city or state governance, so they can take on any Goliath they need to. But not all tasks are quite so epic; groups often cooperate calmly through a network of relationships. “[Meetings] are a great place to meet local elected officials and their staff,” says Lee Solomon, who belongs to both the Fort Greene Association and the Windsor Terrace Alliance. “You can hear what their offices are working on and they seem genuinely curious about what they can do to help their constituents.” On top of that, they can also head up fund-raisers and block parties.

So what’s the downside of these bastions of community fervor? Bringing bureaucracy back to the block can be overwhelming, and these sorts of campaigns take considerable effort. “Depending on the community, its size and challenges, serving on a homeowners’ association can be demanding, both in terms of time and perseverance,” says Frank Rathbun of the Community Associations Institute. But, he adds, “Serving can also be very fulfilling.”

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