Editorial Everyone should have a say

In a recent editorial in The Atlantic, entitled “Not Everyone Should Have A Say”, the writer argued that community input was not necessary for energy-permitting projects and that community input gets in the way. We disagree.

While the editorial was national in scope, it highlighted delays in New York City’s congestion pricing and mimics a developing view from YIMBYS (which stands for yes in my back yard and often represents a pro-development point of view) that enacting “good policy” should trump people’s concerns. 

Community Boards aren’t a purely democratic process – they represent those with more time on their hands and can give a false illusion of what totally represents the community, but having a forum where legislators have to at least listen to some members of the community is crucial for democracy. 

As we’ve written before, community boards aren’t perfect institutions and have many follies of their own, but abandoning these principles will only further disengage voters, make leaders more unaccountable and undermine the point of representative government. 

“A local community is going to know what is best for them and what is not best for them better than any lawmaker in Albany—for that matter, certainly any lawmaker who’s in the District of Columbia,” reportedly said Anthony Rogers-Wright, director of environmental justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. While we don’t necessarily agree that just because the community agrees on something it makes it accurate or the best policy but engaging with local stakeholders is necessary to keep a patina of democratic input.

The Atlantic editorial offers no real solutions for “rethinking community input,” and that’s because no community input process can be wholly democratic – but it’s the next best thing. Keeping community board meetings online so that travel times aren’t a hindrance, changing the fact that elected officials can appoint people to community boards, ensuring racial and economic diversity, and passing some kind of legislation that would allow working-class people to take off of work for meetings would be good first steps to making community boards and the quality of the input more democratic.