Evaluating Community Board
As indicated in chapter five, the 1975 charter revisions created a community board system that coupled political decentralization on land-use and budget issues with administrative decentralization on service matters. In chapter six we address the question of what community power has meant to city governance by examining community board effectiveness. The analysis is divided into three periods. The first focuses on the years immediately following charter adoption, 1977 to 1981, a period of adjustment for the boards and the agencies dealing with them. The second period, 1982 to 1989, is defined by a maturing board system as well as economic recovery. The third follows the adoption of the charter reforms of 1989, which had some important effects on board operations.
There is no more basic issue confronting city government than the use of its scarcest resource--land. By definition, cities are densely populated, heterogeneous collections of people ( Wirth 1938). Consequently, the demand for land is great, the variety of land uses is as diverse as an urban population, and control of land use is a major source of political power. "Land is capital for those who own it or manage it, a context for the day-to-day lives of the citizens who live in the city, and a source of political benefits and revenues for the officials who govern the city" ( Elkin 1987, 90).
City governments exercise substantial control over land use. "Although there are constitutional limits to its authority, the discretion available to a local government in determining land use remains the greatest arena for the exercise of local autonomy" ( Peterson 1981, 25). During the machine era, land-use policy in New York was defined by overt intervention in the market for explicitly political ends: Tammany used its control of land to reward contributors. During the reform age, land-use review, though professionalized, continued to serve the political interests of the regime's supporters.
Under reform, formal authority over land-use planning in New York was vested in five agencies: the Board of Estimate, the City Planning Commission,