It’s been quite a year, New York. From banning smoking in public places to the demise of numerous political careers and the international intrigue of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn drama, New York City has been at the center of many a high-profile goodbye. Yet as we enter the New Year, so too do a variety of ideas and programs that aim to give Gotham a boost. Below are the top five things we say goodbye and hello to heading into 2012.
Smoking in Public Spaces: The NYC ban on smoking, which went into effect in May, made it illegal for New Yorkers to puff in public parks, beaches and plazas. Mayor Michael Bloomberg hopes the ban will reduce the number of deaths in the city due to secondhand smoke inhalation. But the ban’s success relies on public enforcement, and even the mayor admitted the NYPD will not take action against those who are in violation of the new law.
The city’s verdict: Depending on which side of the smoke cloud they’re standing on, New Yorkers have mixed feelings regarding the ban. Smokers claim its an infringement on their rights, saying people who don’t want to inhale smoke can simply move to a different area. Non-smokers generally agree with the ban, though many aren’t willing to take a stand and enforce the act, especially against their rough-and-tumble New York neighbors.
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company: The Merce Cunningham Dance Company has been on the forefront of innovative dance since 1953. Now, after almost 60 years, the company is wrapping up its final tour, a two-year trot around the globe that will end with a run of shows at the Park Avenue Armory Dec. 29-31. The tour is a celebration of the works of the late choreographer Merce Cunningham, who died in 2009.
The city’s verdict: Fans of dance and Cunningham will be sad to see the company go. Fortunately, the Merce Cunningham Studio will remain open and fans are welcome to sign up for a range of dance classes.
Cathie Black: Bloomberg raised eyebrows when he appointed Cathie Black, then-chairwoman of Hearst magazines, as NYC school chancellor in early 2011. Black, who replaced Joel Klein, needed a waiver from the NYS Education Department to become chancellor as she had no prior experience in the field of education. After being the subject of much controversy, Black resigned after just three months. She has since been replaced by former Deputy Mayor for Education Dennis Walcott.
The city’s verdict: It’s safe to say that New Yorkers are happy with Black’s resignation. She landed in hot water within the first few weeks of her appointment after making several not-so-tactful remarks, including a joke about birth control being a suitable solution for the overcrowding of schools. During her time in office she mustered a measly 17 percent approval rating.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn: In May, French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 62, was charged with sexually assaulting a 32-year-old maid in a Manhattan hotel room. Strauss-Kahn, who was quickly dubbed “DSK” by the city’s tabloids, admitted to having an affair but denied the charges. The case was dropped after inconsistencies in the maid’s story came to light, but not before DSK was forced to step down as chief of the International Monetary Fund.
The city’s verdict: While DSK’s departure doesn’t mean much for New Yorkers, it’s likely the majority are glad to see him go — if at least for the lack of front-page coverage, which, while initially entertaining (read: “Le Perv” and “Frog Legs It!”) became overwhelming. When news of the alleged rape allegation broke, many NYers sided with the alleged victim, but after the charges were dropped, there was much disappointment in how the case was handled.
Jay Walder: Among the high-profile resignations in 2011 was the abrupt departure of Metropolitan Transportation Authority President Jay Walder in July. Walder, who previously worked for London’s transportation system, officially stepped down in October after serving as MTA chief for two years upon his appointment by then-Gov. David Paterson. He resigned to take a position with a transportation company in Hong Kong, saying in a statement, “I believe that we have accomplished quite a lot in a short period.”
The city’s verdict: Walder’s departure was met with mixed reactions by New Yorkers. While he took a hit from the public after raising transit fares in 2010, Walder also implemented some laudable technological improvements to the MTA during his tenure, such as the Select Bus Service and Subway Station countdown clocks.
Expanded L-Train Service: The days of endlessly waiting for the L-train are supposedly over (though we hope the churro vendors stay put). With a large surge in ridership over the past decade or so (a 141 percent weekend increase since 1998), the MTA has finally decided to step it up. L trains are expected to run more frequently during weekends and rush hour. The changes are set to occur in mid-2012, so don’t change your travel routes just yet.
The city’s verdict: It’s reasonable to assume that State Senator Daniel Squadron (who requested a change to the L-train service) can speak for all New Yorkers when he said, “This L-train improvement is an important step toward a subway system that works for its riders every day of the week.”
Bike Share: The next year will bring about a revolution in transportation with the Alta bike share program coming to the city. The program, launching in the summer of 2012, will offer New Yorkers the opportunity to rent and return bikes from a fleet of 10,000 at more than 600 stations located in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The network is great for commuters who travel too far to walk yet not far enough to justify paying for a MetroCard (monthly unlimited cards run $108). Plus, bike share program membership only costs $100 per year. Single trips cost less.
The city’s verdict: NYC Transit Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan faced a bit of opposition from City Council members due to her lack of inclusion of the Council in the planning of the program. Some have also expressed concern over the potential placements of the bike kiosks. Aside from this, New Yorkers and council members have embraced the idea of bike sharing.
Facebook Comes to NYC: Social networking is about to a get a little more local. The ubiquitous social-networking giant Facebook is expected to open up an engineering center in Midtown Manhattan early next year. Upcoming and aspiring computer engineers: get your resumés ready! Although Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has not given an exact number of potential local hires, she said the company plans on hiring thousands of people in the near future.
The city’s verdict: Overall, Facebook’s new NYC office seems like a good boost to the local economy, as Bloomberg and Sen. Chuck Schumer stated. However, it is also likely to pull potential engineering talent away from the city’s startup tech businesses.
MoMath: While the idea of kids flocking to a math-focused museum seems about as far-fetched as John Liu winning the 2013 NYC mayoral race, the former may indeed become reality. In fact, 2012 is poised to be the year of Math-hattan, with the opening of the Museum of Mathematics next year. The museum, also known as MoMath, will be located at 11 E. 26th St. and will serve to create a greater understanding of math among visitors (right-brain individuals need not be discouraged!).
The city’s verdict: Residents of the area are happy to welcome MoMath among the ranks of other off-beat cultural institutions popping up in the northern Madison Square Park region. Developers hope MoMath will help restore vitality to the NoMad area. Plus, it adds another short, cutesy museum name to the city’s growing list (i.e. MoMa, Mocha, Met, etc).
Ghost: The Musical: Have no fear, but Ghost is here. Not just any old specter, but the musical rendition of the classic 1990 movie “Ghost” starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. (Remember the clay pottery love scene? What about the played-to-death Righteous Brothers’ song, “Unchained Melody,” from the soundtrack?) The musical, which was recently a big hit in London, will come to Broadway for a series of preview shows in March at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. Tony-award winner Matthew Warchus will direct and the two lead actors from the London show will stay on. Get your tickets.
The city’s verdict: Although “Ghost: The Musical” was well received in London, the cheesy musical rendition of an already cheesy movie may not sit well with New Yorkers. Only time (and ticket sales) will tell.