In 2018, there was so much news—and so much of it that wasn’t especially good or heartwarming—that it was easy to forget when nice things happened. In New York City, good news ran the gamut from lessening the presence of cars in popular parks, to minor (very minor) improvements to subway service, to a colorful duck that made headlines around the world.
Here are 15 things that made us cheer in 2018.
Half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers became a reality.
Low-income New Yorkers will get a reprieve from the cost of a subway fare come January, when Fair Fares goes into effect. The program that will provide half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers became a reality in June when the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio finally reached an agreement over its funding.
It’s estimated that the 800,000 New Yorkers living below the federal poverty line can save an average of $726 a year with the program’s assistance. De Blasio called Fair Fares a “big step” in creating the kind of city that includes everyone.
Two of the city’s biggest parks said goodbye to cars.
It took several decades and tireless work from safe streets activists, but both Central Park and Prospect Park are finally (mostly) free of cars. Somewhere, the ghosts of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux are smiling.
The East River waterfront got a lot greener.
Speaking of parks, Brooklyn and Queens—specifically, the stretch hugging the East River—was positively brimming with them this year, with the unveiling of new green space at Hunter’s Point South in Long Island City, Domino Park in Williamsburg, and Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn Heights. The new “leisure waterfront” was very good indeed, adding much-needed parkland to once-industrial areas (and, in the case of Hunter’s Point South, creating over an acre of new wetlands to boot).
More monuments dedicated to women are coming.
And the first one will honor one very deserving New Yorker: Shirley Chisholm, the famously “unbought and unbossed” Brooklyn legislator who was the first black woman to be elected to Congress, as well as the first black woman to seek the Democratic nomination for president. The De Blasio administration announced in November that a statue commemorating her memory will rise in Prospect Park in 2020—we can’t think of a more fitting woman to kick off the city’s SheBuiltNYC program, which will ass more monuments dedicated to women throughout the five boroughs.
Subway art went to the dogs—in a good way.
It was quite a good year for the MTA’s Percent for Art program, which brought pieces by Firelei Baez and Yoko Ono added to stations that were refurbished. But our favorite artworks came to the 23rd Street F/M station at the end of the year: A series of mosaics inspired by William Wegman’s photos of his Weimaraners, Flo and Topper. In a year when the MTA told a rider to call 911 on an adorable pup on the subway, it was nice to see some good doggos get the respect they deserve.
Coney Island’s boardwalk is now a landmark.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission doesn’t hand out scenic landmark designations willy-nilly—there are just 11 throughout all five boroughs—but this year, the agency gave the Coney Island boardwalk some love. Even though pieces of the 95-year-old waterfront walkway (officially, the Riegelmann Boardwalk) have been replaced over the years, the designation was a victory for preservationists and an acknowledgement of the major role the so-called “people’s playground” has played in the city’s history.
The Gowanus Canal is finally getting clean.
As of November, the notorious Brooklyn superfund waterway is the cleanest it’s been in 150 years. The EPA has been tackling decades of environmental abuse at the site in a long, slow process of remediation that kicked off in December 2016.
The remediation, which requires removing large debris, then dredging the toxic waste (or “black mayonnaise”) at the canal’s floor, has only reached the Fourth Street Basin behind the namesake neighborhood’s Whole Foods, but the full job is expected to be complete in 2022. With Sludgie the Whale in mind, it’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.
Library cards pulled double-duty as all-access museum passes.
This year, a library card became so much more than a way to check out books: The New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Library partnered with dozens of New York cultural institutions—including MoMA, the Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden—to provide free Culture Passes to card holders. The initiative, which has grown in the months since it launched, is an excellent way to bring the city’s myriad cultural offerings to the masses; and hopefully, people will get more face time at their local libraries—among the city’s greatest civic institutions—to boot.
New roots for the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
This year’s Rockefeller Center Christmas tree celebrates diversity and inclusion in a new, subtle way: It’s the first chosen tree that was donated by a same sex or Latina couple. The 72-foot Norway spruce was donated to the city by Mott Haven native Shirley Figueroa and wife Lissette Gutierrez, both Puerto Rican, who moved upstate last year. “Just the fact that I have a tree that I can donate when I came from somewhere that had no trees—it’s so surreal,” Figueroa told the New York Times.
A colorful waterfowl captured New Yorkers’ hearts.
Mandarin duck, hot duck, Mandarin Patinkin: The colorful creature who set up camp in Central Park this fall has many names, and has been the subject of many ridiculous, funny memes toward the end of the year. The duck may not be as unique as previously thought—there are apparently Mandarin ducks in other boroughs—but it’s still the No. 1 duck in our hearts. And really, who doesn’t love when urban wildlife makes headlines? (See also: the goats that ran wild on the subway over the summer, and were eventually rescued by Jon Stewart.)
New York debuted its first official LGBTQ memorial.
The city so inextricably tied to the LGBTQ movement debuted its first official memorial honoring the community in June. Located on the Hudson River waterfront between West 12th and Bethune streets, the memorial, which was designed by artist Anthony Goicolea, faces two beacons of freedom: the piers that have served as a haven for the LGBTQ community and the Statue of Liberty.
It’s made up of nine boulders in a circular pattern, six of which are bisected with glass. Inside one of the voids is a quote from LGBTQ writer Audre Lorde that Goicolea calls the monument’s inner voice: “Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forced.”
The MTA showed a little respect (just a little bit.)
After an outpouring of requests and renegade tributes by straphangers, the MTA commissioned official artwork honoring the late Aretha Franklin at Manhattan’s Franklin Street and Brooklyn’s Franklin Avenue stations. “We wanted to memorialize the outpouring of love from the community for Aretha Franklin,” an MTA spokesperson said in September. “In consultation with local leaders, we agreed that ‘respect’ was a beautiful tribute and worthy message.”
Bodegas got a boost.
A new public private partnership pilot program that launched in August is helping some bodega owners spruce up their storefronts in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. The hope is that the improvements will protect the all-important stores from risk of closure and inspire other merchants to tidy up, increasing foot traffic and perceptions of safety in their areas.
The Tompkins Square Dog Park Halloween Parade was saved.
Yes, it occurred in East River Park and not Tompkins Square Park but it still happened and the story is this: After the parade’s organizers announced the delightful event had become untenable owing to the Parks Department’s request for a large insurance and liability policy, the Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) civic organization stepped up to take on the policy and the personal risk associated with the event. The show went on—and was broadcast on ESPN.
One of NYC’s youngest transit fanatics had the best day ever.
Harry, a six-year-old New Yorker who uses a wheelchair (and is “the ultimate MTA fanboy”), had what was probably the most adorable costume of 2018: He dressed as an M96 crosstown bus, which is his favorite bus because, as his mom told Gothamist, it takes him to school. The MTA took notice, and in December, he got to spend a day at the Casey Stengel Depot and Corona Maintenance Facility with NYCT chief Andy Byford and Alex Elegudin, NYCT’s senior advisor for accessibility.
“[T]his is such a nice, happy story, and a really good opportunity to raise some awareness about accessibility, to really bring it to life for people day-to-day,” Harry’s mom, Jasmine Tay, told Gothamist. “It’s a reality for Harry, so we need to work with what we’ve got.”