In 2019, 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 on one congested street, to increased diversity in city landmarks and monuments, to a count of all the squirrels that live in Central Park.
Here are 13 things that made us cheer in 2019.
The 14th Street busway unclogged one of Manhattan’s most congested arteries.
Three cheers are in order for the MTA and the city’s Department of Transportation, which helped break the never-ending gridlock on 14th Street by implementing the city’s first transit-truck priority program. Despite the legal challenges, arguments, and hand-wringing that preceded it, the busway has proven to be a success: It’s led to increased ridership along 14th Street (where the M14 SBS rolled out over the summer), as well as speedier buses. Bring more of these on in 2020!
It got a lot less expensive to apply for an apartment.
New York’s mid-year rent regulation overhaul brought many pro-tenant laws into existence. One that will be felt by renters of all stripes? Licensed real estate brokers and salespeople can no longer charge prospective renters more than $20 for an apartment application fee. Plus, the fee is waived for applicants who can provide a background check or credit check conducted within the past 30 days. Know your rights as a renter, it might save you money!
An East New York landfill began its transformation into a state park.
The first section of Shirley Chisholm Park opened in July in a green-space starved corner of Brooklyn. The state park named for the first black woman elected to Congress brings 110 acres of walking, biking, and running trails plus access to the Jamaica Bay waterfront to the site formerly known as the Pennsylvania Avenue Landfill. (New York has a history of turning former landfills into verdant parks. See: Brookfield, Freshkills.)
“The words ‘charming’ and fun’ don’t often come to mind when walking around New York City’s polluted landfills,” wrote Curbed columnist Nathan Kensinger, “Yet somehow, a walk through this new park is just that—a surprisingly enjoyable ramble through a delightfully varied landscape of wildflower meadows, native grasslands, hidden beaches, and bustling fishing piers.”
When it’s completed in 2021, the park will cover 407 acres over the Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue landfills. A community that’s been choked off from the waterfront for decades has been granted idyllic access, and that’s something to celebrate.
Legislation promoting bird-safe glass flew through the City Council.
The New York City Audubon Society estimates that between 90,000 and 230,000 birds are killed every year by flying into New York City buildings. A first-of-its-kind legislation passed by the City Council in December makes New York the country’s first major metropolis that’s doing something about avian death-by-collision. The legislation, proposed by Rafael Espinal Jr. and going into effect in December 2020, will require glass that’s visible to birds to be installed on the lowest 75 feet of new or modified buildings and on structures above green roofs.
A good example of this policy in action: The all-glass Javits Center, once deemed NYC’s top bird-killing building by the city’s Audubon Society, was renovated in 2013 to include glass that’s visible to the avian population. As a result, 90 percent fewer birds are on a collision course with the building. “It’s our ethical responsibility as members of the building industry to address the role of glass in bird population decline,” Dan Piselli, FXCollaborative’s director of sustainability, said of the project. And now, as a city, we will.
A “Green New Deal” will make buildings more energy-efficient.
Speaking of measures that will help improve the eco-friendliness of New York City buildings, the City Council in April passed the Climate Mobilization Act, a package of bills that aims to cut carbon emissions from large buildings by 40 percent by 2030. The most dramatic measure would require buildings of more than 25,000 square feet—which are responsible for 30 percent of the city’s carbon emissions—to conduct retrofits, such as new windows and insulation, to make those buildings more energy-efficient.
“You cannot overstate how big a deal this is,” Pete Sikora, the director of climate and inequality campaigns with New York Communities for Change, said after the legislation was passed. “There is no city world wide anywhere that has set emission limits on this scale.”
We found out how many squirrels live in Central Park.
The number is (approximately) 2,373, according to the good folks who participated in the first-ever Squirrel Census. Though the count happened in 2018, the findings were released over the summer, and included other insights about the ubiquitous rodents who call the park home.
A blighted dumping grounds in Staten Island became a picturesque marsh (that’ll help stem coastal flooding).
Tires, hunks of concrete, and abandoned boats and cars were once a common site on the shores of Staten Island’s Saw Mill Creek. But after a revitalization effort headed up by the city’s Economic Development Corporation and the Parks Department, 54 acres of creekbank are lush with new marsh after the removal of some 40,000 cubic yards (or 1,000 full dumpsters worth) of debris and contaminated soil. Another 15 acres will be revitalized before the project’s a wrap.
City landmarks and monuments got more inclusive.
After last year’s push to create more monuments of historic women—an effort that progressed in 2019 with the announcement of four statues honoring icons like Billie Holiday and Elizabeth Jennings Graham—the city upped its commitment to honoring a diverse swath of New Yorkers by designating six historic LGBTQ sites as landmarks. The buildings in question include the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village, and homes where James Baldwin and Audre Lorde once lived in Manhattan and Staten Island, respectively.
The de Blasio administration also announced that it would honor LGBTQ activists and Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR) founders Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera with a permanent monument in Greenwich Village, making this an especially good year for LGBTQ representation in city monuments (finally).
Belvedere Castle got all gussied up.
Central Park’s beloved hilltop castle reopened in late June after a 15-month renovation that reinvigorated the 1858 structure’s original look while updating it with systems that will protect it for decades to come. The Instagram hotspot is now extra ready for its close-up.
Politicians got serious about street safety.
In a particularly deadly year for New York’s pedestrians and cyclists, city officials finally started to pay serious attention to the need for more robust initiatives to improve street safety across the five boroughs. City Councilmembers like Antonio Reynoso and Corey Johnson spoke emphatically of the need to “break the car culture” of New York City, while Carlina Rivera and Ydanis Rodriguez introduced legislation to create bike and pedestrian mayors who would promote safe streets policies. And the de Blasio administration introduced its $58 million “Green Wave” plan, aimed at upping the number of protected bike lanes throughout the city.
But the initiative with the most potential is Johnson’s streets master plan, which passed in October. The ambitious undertaking calls for building 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of dedicated bus lanes over a five-year period, as well as new pedestrian space within the first two years and accessibility upgrades throughout the city. Though it won’t be implemented in full for several years, it’s an encouraging step in the right direction.
New York’s streets were renamed in honor of some of the city’s greatests.
The city continued its long tradition of naming streets in honor of standout New Yorkers with two major dedications in 2019. In May, a corner in Staten Island’s Park Hill neighborhood was dubbed the Wu-Tang Clan District for the borough’s (arguably) most well-known musical group. Brooklyn-born Biggie Smalls got his due a month later in Clinton Hill with the dedication of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace Way. And there’s more goodness to look forward to in 2020: It’s rumored that Marvel universe mastermind Stan Lee will be honored in the spring with a co-naming in the Bronx, where the comic genius lived as a teen.
Indie bookstores had a moment.
2019 began with the news that McNally Jackson, the beloved Soho bookstore, would not vacate its longtime Prince Street HQ, as had been rumored the year before. In fact, the bookstore is now in the process of expanding: It opened a South Street Seaport outpost in the fall, and another Brooklyn store is coming to the City Point shopping center in the near future.
That was just one bit of good news from indie booksellers this year: In April, Bronx resident Noelle Santos finally opened the Lit. Bar, a new bookstore in Mott Haven and the borough’s only indie seller. And the Drama Book Shop, which was in danger of closing, found a high-profile benefactor: Lin-Manuel Miranda, along with three of his frequent collaborators, bought the bookstore and will open a revitalized version in the spring.