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Future cities, now!
Image: Time Out

Future New York, now! The 20 people, places and things shaping a better city today

These are the surprising innovations, creative ideas and amazing support networks bringing about a better future for NYC.

By Will Gleason, Adam Feldman, Shaye Weaver, Collier Sutter, Bao Ong and Danielle Valente
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New York has undergone a seismic transformation over the last year. While much of that change has resulted in unprecedented challenges for the city’s arts, hospitality and tourism industries, it has also created an opportunity for some absolutely brilliant new ideas to thrive.

Amidst the current cultural upheaval, we've seen some staggering examples of innovation—from NYC's best museums pushing technological boundaries to brand-new green spaces and some seriously impressive (and seriously fun) new ways to support your fellow New Yorkers. (Not to mention all the outdoor dining!) 

As we look forward, we've gathered some of the most exciting people, places and things that are creating a better New York right now.

The 20 people, places and things shaping a better city today

Little Island park Pier 55
Little Island park Pier 55
Photograph: Courtesy Michael Grimm Photography

The new park that's redefining waterfront green space

News City Life

New York City needs new green space now more than ever. In a few months, we're getting some. Little Island at Pier 55 is a two-acre park that hovers above the Hudson River. When it opens in 2021, it'll welcome New Yorkers and visitors alike to explore its slopes, trees, shrubs and flowers—it'll be like visiting a botanical garden in the middle of Manhattan. Walking through its vaulted opening, you're afforded not only views of its open lawns and plantings, but incredible views of Manhattan and the river. That stunning vista will also act as a backdrop to live theater that will take place at two amphitheaters within the park.

OMNY
OMNY
Photograph: Courtesy MTA/Marc A. Hermann

The high-tech scanners making MetroCards a thing of the past

News City Life

The MTA is doing away with our MetroCards and replacing them with a tap system by 2023. Yes, we also balked at the idea at first. But after using the new system, we found that OMNY is actually much more convenient. There's no more panic-searching for a card anymore or swiping five times to get through a turnstile. OMNY scanners, now found in most of the city's stations, allow you to simply tap your smart phone or smart watch. Finally, we have a system that jives with New Yorkers' busy lives.

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LaGuardia Terminal B, Location: Queens, New York, LaGuardia Gate
LaGuardia Terminal B, Location: Queens, New York, LaGuardia Gate
Photograph: Courtesy Jeff Goldberg

The new terminal making LaGuardia a little less embarrassing

News City Life

Flying in and out of LaGuardia Airport used to be a necessary evil. No one enjoyed its old carpeting, low ceilings and aged layout. (It was memorably once likened to a "third-world country" by presidential hopeful Joe Biden.) Thankfully, all of that has changed. The airport's Terminal B has undergone a massive $8 billion transformation, with a new Arrivals and Departure Hall that reopened earlier this year, and a forthcoming western concourse, which will open its first seven of 17 gates later this year. While the baggage claim and gates have been beautifully renovated, we're most excited about the 21 new shops and restaurants, and the incredible artwork that now decorates the lofty space. We can finally enjoy waiting to catch our flights.

The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, The Met Breuer, New-York Historical Society, quarantine, photographs, William Faulkner, Kevin Powell, Kay Hickman
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, The Met Breuer, New-York Historical Society, quarantine, photographs, William Faulkner, Kevin Powell, Kay Hickman
Photograph: Courtesy New-York Historical Society

The museums transforming outdoor space into galleries

News City Life

New York institutions had to get creative this year to offer cultural experiences to the pandemic-beleaguered. Because museums were closed for months, many of them brought the museum-going experience to us—outside, where we could safely enjoy it. The New-York Historical Society and the Museum of the City of New York used their facades and outdoor space to present exhibitions on how New York responded and experienced the pandemic, while Photoville returned in a bigger way to 25 locations across the city. By expanding outside, more New Yorkers were able to get the cultural enrichment they'd been lacking for months. We're hopeful that more museums and galleries will follow their lead in the future.

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Challah Dolly
Challah Dolly
Photograph: Courtesy of Dolly Meckler

The bakers turning their personal kitchens into home businesses

News Eating

You’d think everyone was baking sourdough bread or banana bread this year if you spent anytime scrolling through Instagram. Dolly Meckler, an amateur baker, wanted in on the baking craze but the lifelong New Yorker decided she’d turn to challah instead of all the other hashtag trends. Today, Meckler’s business Challah Dolly, which included pop-up stints at Partybus Bakeshop in the Lower East Side, keeps growing in popularity from her Upper East Side apartment. Over in Brooklyn, Carla Finley started Apt. 2 Bread in her home kitchen while quarantining, and a portion of the profits from her expertly-made loaves of bread is given to social justice organizations.

The Lot Radio
The Lot Radio
Photograph: Archer Lewis

The free community food fridges working to end NYC food disparity

News City Life

In an effort to help solve food insecurity in the city, local communities sprung into action this year to empower neighbors with easy access to proper nourishment. The free fridge concept, which began in Bed-Stuy, represents mutual aid— goods are placed in fridges daily by fellow neighbors and items are up for grabs for anyone. North Brooklyn’s first fridge popped up outside Greenpoint’s The Lot Radio, a makeshift community center, internet radio station, bar and coffee shop, where neighbors already congregate over good music and cheap beer. Now, the Lot contributes to keeping the fridge alive by paying its electric bill.

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trans-pecos
trans-pecos
Photograph: Courtesy Trans-Pecos

The music venue hosting pop-up concert fundraisers

As restaurants have reopened for outdoor dining, many NYC music venues remain closed, most without the luxury of outdoor space for socially distanced seating. Fortunately, avant garde music venue Trans-Pecos, an inclusive Ridgewood staple since 2005, is using their spacious backyard to fundraise for fellow New York venues and clubs. For the 2020 edition of Independent Venue Week several Brooklyn and Queens venues, including Baby's All Right, Sultan Room, The Broadway Our Wicked Lady and Market Hotel—have joined with Trans-Pecos to curate five nights of streamed gigs. The live performances, shot at the five venues, will each have a night where the shows will be projected in Trans-Pecos backyard. Proceeds go toward each venue's out-of-work staff, as well as the chefs and artists.

Troy Anthony
Troy Anthony
Photograph: Courtesy Mari Uchida/Musical Theatre Factory

The queer Black playwrights who are shaping the future of theater

News Theater & Performance

It’s been a huge year for Black LGBTQ+ theater artists: Michael R. Jackson won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his musical A Strange Loop and Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play received 12 Tony nominations, more than any other play in Tony history. But these achievements are just the beginning. A large contingent of talented, unexposed Black queer writers is waiting in the wings, ready to change both the kind of stories we tell and the ways we tell them.

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outside dining
outside dining
Photograph: Teddy Wolff

This Brooklyn music venue that's transformed into a verdant oasis

News City Life

99 Scott, a popular music and events space in industrial Bushwick has housed everything from weddings and dumpling workshops by day to late-night techno parties by night. Today, 99 Scott has transformed its sprawling courtyard into a tropical plant-filled oasis restaurant called Outerspace that hosts nightly entertainment such as movie screenings. They’ve also created a community dinner series, Served, where local chefs and restaurants, including Ops, Leo Sourdough and Oxalis, stop by to collaborate on pop-up menus for the evening. It's an amazing example of a new type of outdoor community space we hope to see more of.

pod learning
pod learning
Photograph: Shutterstock

The new form of learning helping kids learn and connect

Now more than ever, the idea of a classroom is being redefined. While schools and attractions are pivoting toward digital learning, many are also customizing what's being held in-person. Individualized pods, which are often held at home or a public space, are new ways for children to connect with one another while honing in on a particular subject. (For example, the Children's Museum of the Arts offers pods in animation, claymation and print-making.) And—scrapping the idea of rooms altogether—outdoor learning has become a popular trend amongst NYC parents. From theater to nature exploration, parkour to circus arts, many after-school programs are being held right in New Yorkers' favorite greenspaces. (Check out what's available outdoors on Sawyer.)

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Play-PerView
Play-PerView
Photograph: Courtesy Play-PerView

The virtual-theater series that raises money for charity

Ever since New York’s stages went dark in March, streaming theater has done its best to fill the vacuum. Producer Jeremy Wein has been a big part of that effort; his organization Play-PerView, which mounts live virtual benefit readings of major modern plays, began on March 26 with A Doll’s House, Part 2 and has presented 28 other shows since then, including an original-cast reunion of Heroes of the Fourth Turning and a version of Will Eno’s Title and Deed performed by the playwright. The series announces new shows every month, and the profits go to different charities each time.

Don't Tell Mama sign
Don't Tell Mama sign
Photograph: Courtesy Don't Tell Mama

The entertainers keeping the music going at New York’s piano bars

News Theater & Performance

Piano bars are a key part of classic New York culture, and the entertainers who work there are continuing to make music even if their patrons can’t gather around like usual. The staff of the archetypical show-tune dive Marie’s Crisis keeps the joint jumping in virtual form every night so you can sing along from home; at Don’t Tell Mama, Brandy’s and the West Bake Cafe, they perform live for customers who are safely seated outdoors. We can't wait to see where they'll pop up next.

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outdoor dining
outdoor dining
Photograph: Shutterstock

The new program expanding the concept of outdoor dining

News City Life

Has there been a piece of local legislation as instantly impactful (and overwhelmingly succesful) as the Open Restaurants program? The wildly popular initiative made it easier for restaurants to obtain sidewalk and street dining permits and completely changed New York's cityscape seemingly overnight. Now, it's looking like it will be with us for quite some time. Last week, the City Council voted on legislation that will make NYC’s popular al fresco dining program permanent. (Lawmakers approved the bill 46 to 2.) That bill makes sure that the program will continue until at least September, 2021.

Kurt Phelan and Lance Horne
Kurt Phelan and Lance Horne
Photograph: Courtesy of the artist

The performers working to expand the idea of the theatrical community

News Theater & Performance

Although songwriter Lance Horne and actor Kurt Phelan have mostly been unable to perform during the theater shutdown, the married couple has found a way to keep the flame of community alive: by making and selling artisanal candles through their new company, We Light, and hiring other out-of-work stage folk to help craft their product. Performing artists who are looking to dip their wicks with the company can contact it on Instagram.

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gertie
gertie
Photograph: Time Out/Ali Garber

The NYC restaurant coalition advocating for democracy through food

Williamsburg’s all-day cafe Gertie, has introduced several non-profit efforts over the past year. During the pandemic, the diner transformed into a relief center for restaurant workers. Now, under the umbrella of “RAD” Restaurant Advocating for Democracy, Gertie is rewriting the restaurant business model. While operating as a restaurant, it's also hosting weekly pop-up block parties where diners can get involved through phone banking and postcard writing to voters in swing states. Proceeds from food and provisions purchased during pop-ups benefit Far Fight Action, a group that fights for free and fair elections. Other Brooklyn restaurants including Crown Height’s Hunky Dory, and Bed-Stuy’s Ursula and For All Things Good, have already joined in to help, providing additional cocktails and dishes to sell.

Pier 26 Hudson River Park
Pier 26 Hudson River Park
Photograph: Max Guliani for Hudson River Park

The new pier bringing the city's wetlands past into the future

News City Life

The first new pier in Hudson River Park in more than a decade is now open to the public. Visitors to Pier 26, can sunbathe on its lounge chairs, take tours of its "tide deck" planted with native shrubs, trees and grasses, and stroll its elevated, cantilevered walkway to get spectacular views. The opening comes at the perfect time when New Yorkers are living their lives outside more than ever, and it also provides some sorely needed new park space where greenery is in short supply. (Did we mention it's also home to City Vineyard restaurant and wine bar and Downtown Boathouse, which offers free kayaking? Need we say more?)

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Green Top Farms
Green Top Farms
Photography: Courtesy of Green Top Farms

The local farms delivering fresh produce to New Yorkers' doorsteps

News Eating

Early on in the current crisis, local farmers had two things working against them: many restaurants were temporarily closed and people were buying groceries online more than ever. But a new innovation quickly came to fruition: a farm-to-apartment movement. New Yorkers have never had it so easy to get farm fresh eggs, seasonal produce and even pristine seafood from local waters delivered straight to their doorsteps. As everyone cooked more at home, eating local and buying local became synonymous. 

Café du Soleil domes
Café du Soleil domes
Photograph: @rflnyc

The dining bubbles popping up across the city's restaurant scene

News Eating

Bubble for two, please. Restaurants offering outdoor dining have had to consider their guests’s health concerns in a year when social distancing has been the norm. We’ve seen space bubbles and greenhouses pop up all over the city as restaurants scramble to make their clientele feel safer while battling Mother Nature. These private dining experiences seem to only be growing, and they could be a harbinger of more to come as we head into the winter months.

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NYPL Central Circulating Branch, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library
NYPL Central Circulating Branch, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library
Photograph: Courtesy John Bartelstone

The library system bringing books to New Yorkers in brand-new ways

News City Life

It's a new chapter for New York City's public libraries. During the lockdown this spring, e-book checkouts from the New York Public Library skyrocketed. To meet demand from Gothamites stuck at home, the legendary system created new and interesting offerings including a virtual book club and e-book reading lists. Now, one of the country's most famous library systems is keeping up with the times by opening new branches (including a new location in Greenpoint this week) and providing a diverse array of new offerings, including grab-and-go service for the first time ever.

Dirt Candy
Dirt Candy
Photograph: Courtesy of Dirt Candy

The top chef making vegetarian food more accessible than ever

News Eating

At Amanda Cohen’s Lower East Side restaurant Dirt Candy, she served multi-course vegetarian menus that rivaled any Michelin-starred establishment that showcased meat or seafood as its pièce de résistance. Since reopening, however, the celebrated chef has made the vegetarian diet more accessible with a 14-course meal for $50 (available for takeout and delivery). Whether it’s Cohen’s take on pizza bagel bites or seaweed caviar stuffed into tea sandwiches, the menu reflects a larger trend across the city as more and more restaurants offer vegetarian and vegan-friendly options.

Gaze into the crystal ball

Main image for Future Cities, Now!
Illustration: Time Out/Tom Hislop

Future Cities, Now!

Things to do

Let’s look to the future. What will NYC look like next year? In ten years’ time? In 30 years’ time? To start getting answers, we’re looking at NYC today. Here, we track the most exciting changes and innovations unfolding in our cities right now, right before our eyes. NYC is a life-size lab where we’re seeing better ways of working, playing, loving and living. The city is adapting to these times in ways impossible to imagine even just months ago, and here we offer a snapshot of those changes.

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