Here Are the Big Changes Coming to NYC This Year

Rendering of "Day's End" by David Hammons | Courtesy of Guy Nordenson and Associates/Whitney Museum of American Art
Rendering of "Day's End" by David Hammons | Courtesy of Guy Nordenson and Associates/Whitney Museum of American Art

New York City is forever in flux. For better, worse, or both. That’s always been true and always will be. Except, in 2020, when everything is going to stay exactly the same. And if you believe that we’ve got a below market rate bridge to sell you.
You may be tempted at the dawn of a decade to pause and review, but in the spirit of keeping pace with the city’s constant momentum, it’s more practical to look ahead. To that end, we’ve attempted to glimpse what’s coming down the pike and get you ready. For what? You may ask. Well, this is New York -- a lot.

Will each of these upcoming developments get its own history textbook chapter? Look, we can’t tell the future any better than Keano. But unless you spend your time sealed in a hermetic bubble, at least a few of the things we’ve flagged are certain to affect you or someone you know.

So, just for you, we’ve dusted off our prognostication hats and fixed our gaze to the horizon: Here are some of the big changes coming to the Big Apple in 2020.

no plastic bags at checkout

Single-Use Plastic Bags Are Out

Beginning this coming March, no business charging NY State sales tax may fork their wares over in a single-use plastic bag. There are a few exceptions, notably for prescription meds and vegetables. But good riddance! These things are truly awful; besides requiring fossil fuel to produce, about half of the 23 million plastic bags NYers use every year end up in our waterways and landfills. Bonus prediction: NYC’s canvas tote-bag game is about to pop off.

The Beginning of MetroCard’s End 

Over 1 million straphangers have already used OMNY to tap their way onto the 4/5/6 subway line and/or a Staten Island buses. The RFID contactless payment system (via credit/debit/prepaid card, keyfob, or digital payment method e.g., Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay) is projected to replace the MetroCard by 2023, thereby catching our fair city up to the rest of the world and eliminating these bastards. 2020 will be a watershed year as OMNY becomes omnipresent; expanding to stations in all five boroughs.
More:To Truly Experience New York City, You Must Ride the Subway

Ban on Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing 

Marijuana legalization may have stalled, but along with the substance’s recent decriminalization (which drops the possession penalties from misdemeanors to non-criminal violations and expunges some past convictions) comes a new law that actually protects NY’s prodigious marijuana users. After May of 2020, no employer -- with the exception of any safety and security associated positions or any work tied to federal/state money -- may test a job applicant for the presence of THC. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Brooklyn Bridge Park: Pier 2 Uplands

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s expansion marches delightfully onward with the completion of Pier 2 Uplands in time for Summer 2020. The 3.4-acre addition between Clarke and Pineapple Streets at, y’know, the river, will cut a meandering path through a water garden, as well as a 6,300 square foot riverside lawn. In a cool detail, the water features and lawn seating utilize materials repurposed from neighboring Pier 3’s own renovation.

More: Why Dumbo Should Be Your First Stop Outside of Manhattan

"Imagining Women in the Space Age" exhibit | Ann-Sophie Fjellø-Jensen/NY Hall of Science

Museum? I Hardly Know ‘Um 

MoMA PS1 offers a sweeping survey of NY’s emerging artists. At the Guggenheim, glimpse the future of rural areas. Appreciate Mexican muralists at The Whitney. See 150 years of The Met’s own storied history. Explore images of women as aviators and astronauts at the NY Hall of Science. Visit a pop-up museum dedicated to Broadway theater. Glimpse The Makeup Museum’s fresh face. At MoMa, examine artists as engineers. And revisit the Museum of Natural History’s redesigned Hall of Gems & Minerals.

More: The Best Museums in NYC

Major Criminal Justice Reform

After a suite of reforms to NY State’s broken criminal justice system passed in 2019, two major laws went live Jan. 1 2020. The first requires a prosecution team to speedily turn most of its evidence over during a criminal trial’s discovery phase, allowing for a more comprehensive defense. The second, aiming to re-balance a system that many believe penalizes poverty while advantaging wealth, ends cash bail for defendants accused of nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. The latter law, effective retroactively, may emancipate up to 20,000 nonviolent defendants currently awaiting trial.

New Benefits for IDNYC

Free and available to all New Yorkers over the age of 10 regardless of housing or immigration status, IDNYC is a government-issued photo ID that comes with a slew of benefits like membership to many cultural institutions; discounts on movie tickets, Citibike subscription, and rec center memberships, and can even be used to open an account at a bank or the Public Library. 2020 is seeing expanded benefits, including year-long discounts and early ticket access to The Whitney, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Shed, and the Apollo.

New Major Attractions at Coney Island

As if you needed more reason to hit Coney Island this summer, Luna Park is expanding. Between hotdogs and Cyclone rides, you can swing by the ropes course for some ziplining with an ocean view, do a loop on the relatively-mild-grade ADA-accessible roller coaster, or splash down on the new Super Flume. The 150,000 square foot expansion also includes new food options and arcade games for those who prefer terrestrial thrills.

sky blue fc
Sky Blue FC

Professional Women’s Sports Move House 

Two different women’s pro sports teams will begin playing on new home turf starting in 2020. The WNBA’s New York Liberty are leaving the quaint Westchester County Center for the grandeur of the Barclays Center beside the Brooklyn Nets. In addition, Sky Blue FC, New Jersey’s NWSL team (the closest NY’s got to a pro women’s soccer team) will be playing all of their home games at Red Bull Arena in nearby Harrison, New Jersey -- a quick 20-minute jaunt from the WTC PATH station. 

More:The Best Sports Bars in NYC

Buildings to Get Energy Efficiency Grades

Similar to the lettered Health Department grading system instituted a decade ago, a new law mandates that as of 2020, all buildings over 25k square-feet must conspicuously display an energy efficiency grade based on an ENERGY STAR rating. The implications for developers are obvious as New York’s super skyscraper boom continues (bird-friendly after December 2020!), but facing new scrutiny, possible fines, and the costs of retrofitting their property, what this means for owners of aging properties -- and their tenants -- remains to be seen.

Meet Your Next Mayor

The election naming de Blasio’s successor isn’t officially until 2021, but you better believe that the jockeying has already begun. Throughout 2020, amid all the squawking about November’s national contest, expect to see some already familiar figures making A LOT of local ad buys. Thing is, this race will be different from all previous ones; not only will this be the first mayoral election with early voting, NYC has adopted ranked-choice voting -- which enables voters to -- you guessed it -- rank each candidate.

Splash Battle at LEGOLAND New York | Courtesy of LEGOLAND


Assembled upon a 500-acre parcel in the adorable village of Goshen, 60 miles outside of the city, LEGOLAND New York -- the largest of the Danish toy company’s nine parks -- is set to open this July 4. The park and its rides are designed primarily for visitors aged 2-12, but promises fun for all ages. Starting in 2021, visitors may stay on-premises, but until then, a trip to Legoland from the city only takes about 1.5 hours by bus/car or two hours by train.

MTA Overhaul Begins

A series of major upgrades to the MTAs beleaguered system is slated to commence in 2020 with the replacement of outdated track signals aka the things that induce your subway conductor’s garbled shouting and make you late for everything. The proposed $54.8 billion undertaking, projected for completion in 2024 (you have reason to be skeptical), includes more elevators, expansion of the 2nd Avenue subway, refurbished bridges, and sexy new train cars.

krispy kreme doughnuts
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

So. Much. New. Food.

London hotspot Casa Cruz will settle down on the UES. Peak will ‘wow’ with a view from the 101st floor of 30 Hudson Yards. More food halls will include a Harlem outpost and a Korean varietal in Midtown. A 24/7 Krispy Kreme mothership shall descend on Times Square. Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto will open a Momosan Ramen & Sake in Park Slope. Chef Simone Tong promises to show diners “what it means to us to be Chinese-American today” at Silver Apricot in the West Village.

More:Everywhere You Need to Eat and Drink in NYC Right Now

Oh! Broadway

There’s a Bob Dylan jukebox musical in Girl from the North Country. Straight plays include Martin McDonagh’s dark sensibilities in Hangmen; My Name is Lucy Barton, based on Elizabeth Strout’s novel; one of the greatest living actors, Simon Russell Beale, in The Lehman Trilogy, and an apropos Pulitzer-finalist political comedy The Minutes. There’s yet another screen to stage-musical transformation in Mrs. Doubtfire, and on the revivals front, Caroline, or Change is sure to be a powerhouse, and Sondheim’s Company gets a gender flip.

More:The Best Shows You Can See on Broadway Right Now

Penn Station Expansion

Across Eighth Ave from Penn Station sits the magnificent James A. Farley Postal Service Building, which, by December 2020, according to the US Dept. of Transportation, will be reborn as The Moynihan Train Hall. The long-awaited, $1.6 billion expansion of Manhattan’s LIRR/AMTRAK hub, replete with new food and shopping outlets, is expected to reduce pedestrian congestion and generally be more pleasant than Penn’s gloomy, grimy, godawful rabbit warren. 

More:The Best Lunch Spots in Midtown

David Hammons
Rendering of "Day's End" by David Hammons | Courtesy of Guy Nordenson and Associates/Whitney Museum of American Art

Art Outdoors

Japanese art star, Yayoi Kusama, famous for her infinity rooms, polka dots, and pumpkins will unleash her lively sensibilities on the NY Botanical Garden from May-November. Kusama: Cosmic Nature consists of both old and new work highlighting the visionary’s relationship with nature. Come September, in partnership with The Whitney and the Hudson River Park Trust, venerated African American artist David Hammons will unveil Day’s End, a ghostly installation evoking a pier, permanently installed at the site of what will eventually be Manhattan’s first public beach.

Empire State Trail to Open

Attention outdoor enthusiasts: the country’s longest multi-use trail will be fully-connected and officially open in 2020. There’s a lot to know about the EST, but the bullet points are that the 750 mile trail connects the Southern Tip of Manhattan to the Canadian border and Albany to Buffalo, respectively; many trailheads have amenities like info kiosks and bike maintenance stations; the trails wend through tons of beautiful and historic locales, and it’s all free to use.

Legislative Measures to Empower Women

New insurance laws mandate that IVF be covered by any health insurance administered through the Large Group market and that anyone facing medically-caused infertility is provided fertility preservation treatment. New harassment and discrimination laws allow for reporting of harassment/discrimination despite a signed NDA, and extend the statute of limitations to three years. The state has earmarked more funds for minority-and-women-owned businesses -- helping them receive more city contracts.

Minimum Wage to Increase for Small Businesses

Each year since 2016, as part of the state’s Minimum Wage Act, New York City’s minimum wage has increased -- and this year is no different. 2020 marks the final scheduled increase for hourly workers in the five boroughs, seeing the rate for non-tipped employees of small businesses (10 or fewer employees) rise to $15/hour, and $10/hour for tipped positions. Wage increases have been correlated with growth in the restaurant industry -- whose workforce has the highest proportion of minimum-wage workers. Food for thought.

Rendering of the upcoming Queens IKEA store | Courtesy of IKEA


Federal cuts to SNAP may leave more than 100,000 already-vulnerable New Yorkers hungry. Storm-proofing low-lying neighborhoods may finally begin in earnest. We may see some cultural effects of the tech industry’s infiltration. IKEA’s new Queens fulfillment center might just thin Red Hook Sundays out a little. The L train tunnel repair could be completed. Automated delivery robots will cause brouhaha. The number of chain stores in NYC will continue to decrease. Con Ed is likely to hike rates.

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Julien Levy is a writer and native to downtown Manhattan. He now lives in Brooklyn.