By Alanna Schubach (brickunderground)
We New Yorkers are not necessarily known for our neighborliness—according to New York magazine, we’d rather “endure an electric shock” than run into the strangers who share our apartment buildings and blocks. But our supposed aloofness doesn’t hold up when you consider the prevalence of block associations throughout the city—this list, from Manhattan’s Community Board 2, shows that there are dozens downtown alone. The sheer number of these groups of residents who live on the same street or within the same neighborhood reveal that we may be more friendly and civic-minded than we suspect.
Block associations are groups of residents who decide to collaborate to strengthen a block or area; they often form around a particular issue or set of issues–for example, an unscrupulous landlord or a green space that needs improved maintenance. Across NYC, locals have formed them to beautify neighborhoods, advocate for better crime prevention, and partner with other community groups. In Canarsie, for instance, area block and tenant associations united to form Canarsie Strong in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to help the neighborhood rebuild; today, the group hosts meetings to address ongoing revitalization and sustainability. But most important, says Arif Ullah, director of programs for the Citizens Committee for New York City, are the benefits of befriending one’s neighbors. “It’s about building greater resilience on the block, because people know each other better,” Ullah says.
Marie Laport, community outreach coordinator with the Bridge Street Development Corporation, agrees that a major advantage of forming a block association is strength in numbers. “We get an opportunity to talk about wanting to be stronger, and what that actually means and looks like in the world,” she says.
New Yorkers who are interested in starting a block association—provided that there isn’t already one they can join, which they can find out by contacting their community board—shouldn’t feel daunted by the process, says Ullah. “You just need to get together with a few people on your block and do outreach to residents, gauge their interest, and once you have a few people, declare yourself a block association and take it from there,” he explains.
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