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20 simple ways to make New York a better place

Written by
Clayton Guse

New York can be a slog. It’s easy for residents here to get caught up in their own lives and forget that, you know, there are another 8.4 million people living in the city. New Yorkers love to brag about how amazing the city is, and it's hard to disagree. But, at the end of the day, it's not hard to imagine a New York that's a little bit more friendly, a touch cleaner and generally more accessible for everyone.

This city is a wonderful place, but it could be better—and you can help. It all starts with giving a shit.

Here are 20 incredibly simple ways that you can make New York a better place.

Let’s start with the small things

Get to know your neighbors. Establishing a stronger sense of community in your nabe doesn’t have to be some grandiose effort—it can and should start with the other tenants in your building.

Try holding a door open for someone, because the precious six seconds you’d otherwise save will likely make no difference in your day, and you might actually, you know, feel a human connection in the process.

Give up your seat on the subway to anyone who looks like they could use it more than you.

Swipe your MetroCard for someone if they ask. Seriously, don’t be a dick about it.

Help tourists out with directions, because when people know where they’re going the city runs more smoothly.

There’s a lot you can do for the environment

Join a community garden, because the best veggies in New York come from New York.

Pick up your dog’s shit. The stuff attracts rats, and is really awful to step in. Then take that shit, and use it to fertilize your community garden plot.

Pay close attention to your recycling. New Yorkers produce a lot of trash, a lot of which doesn’t need to be dumped in a landfill. If you’re confused as to what and how you can recycle in the city, you can find a handy guide here

Bike to work once in a while. Though it’s certainly intimidating to pedal a two-wheeled death machine through Gotham’s streets, the only greenhouse gas you emit while riding a bicycle is a touch more carbon dioxide (and possibly some flatulence). Ubers clog up the city anyway, and your bike ride will open up a bit more space on a sardine-packed rush hour train.

Start keeping bees. Though it might seem like a ridiculous statement, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with beekeeping organizations across NYC. Not only will you help plant life flourish throughout the city, but you’ll also be able to score some sweet honey and other apiary-oriented products. 

The way you patron businesses in the city makes a huge difference

Tip your servers at least 20 percent, including baristas. Tip your delivery drivers at least $5, because schlepping food around a neighborhood ain’t easy. Unless someone literally punches you in the face and spits in your food, you should be paying them for their time.

Become a regular at your local bodega, because if you don’t the location might be swept up by a 711 or—god forbid—a Chipotle.

Go to as many flea markets and street fairs as possible. If you want to support artists, up-and-coming chef and loads of other great things that make New York so amazing, the city’s markets and fairs are a great one-stop shop to do so.

Helping out New York’s homeless population is not very difficult

Stand up and support prospective homeless shelters in your neighborhood. Bill de Blasio has doubled down on an effort to help curb homelessness in New York, but people in communities across the city are loudly voicing opposition to the installation of new shelters. The best way to counter those voices is to let your voice be heard—it makes a difference.

Volunteer for non-profits that help homeless people. You might have to sacrifice your brunch plans, but there are bigger problems in the world than the need to Instagram a frittata.  

There are slightly bigger ways you can make New York a better place, too

Stand up for immigrant rights. New York’s population is made up of one-third immigrants—that’s about 2.8 million people. This city runs on hard work by people who weren’t born in the country, and ensuring that everyone in this city has rights and opportunities on both the local and federal level is of pinnacle importance. You can find a full list of immigration organizations to get involved with here.

Help shape the next generation of New Yorkers. Being a kid isn’t easy anywhere, and NYC is no exception. If you want to make life suck for a few less local kids, consider volunteering with some of the best youth-assisting organizations in town. 

Stand up for criminal justice reform. New York, like many other major cities in the country, has a pretty awful mass incarceration problem. While it can be hard to know how to get involved with finding solutions to issues inherent within the country’s criminal justice system, it’s more important than ever to stay active (and woke). Keep up with organizations like the Vera Institute of Justice to stay informed on the issues, and consider volunteering at the NYC Department of Correction to help incarcerated individuals find effective paths to re-entry.  

Stand up for refugees in the city. New York doesn’t admit too many refugees—about 500 families seeking asylum are resettled here annually. There are plenty of organizations worth getting involved with that help refugee families acclimate to the city, find work and find a suitable life. 

And if you don’t have time for any of that, consider calling your family members once in a while. Maybe you can encourage them to visit, bringing in more of that sweet, sweet tourism money that helps pay for everything in this wonderful town.

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