Could Mayor de Blasio’s municipal ID program be the sleeper program to rejuvenate New York City? We all know this city is full of cultural gems, but now we no longer have an excuse to ignore them, just because we already experienced them once on a high school field trip or a first date.
The Muni ID program was Councilmember Carlos Menchaca’s big idea. Barely a year after he was elected, the program was already up and running. That’s something. Menchaca represents Sunset Park, and the moral impetus for the program was to provide undocumented immigrants an identification card, giving them, for city purposes, identification. Measures like this have been controversial before, and in order for the IDs not to have stigma attached to them, they needed to be attractive to all New Yorkers. I know how few of my young professional transplant friends have New York drivers licenses, so the opportunity was there.
De Blasio’s team, including Williamsburg politico Lincoln Restler, saw to it that many of New York City’s most iconic institutions participated. Nearly three dozen museums, garden and arts venues now offer a free year of membership to anyone with a Muni ID, effective the day they show up (*at most venues). This means you have about five weeks to go hunting for awesome memberships around the city. As of this summer, more than 400,000 New Yorkers had signed up, but 90% hadn’t yet taken advantage of these opportunities.
Anna and I got our Muni IDs earlier this year, but in a busy summer of weddings, work and Burning Man, weren’t in local tourist mode until recently. Last weekend we had a great visit to the Museum of Natural History, where we are now members for 2016. Things got really epic on Saturday, where we started off with a trip to the Bronx Zoo. This is awfully hard for me to admit, as the Bronx Zoo was a favorite childhood destination, but the place is looking a little shabby these days. Much of the park looks unchanged since my childhood, and the animals looked sad. Oh well, still a special place.
From there we became members of the New York Botanical Garden, just across the street from the zoo. That place blows my mind. It is to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden what Prospect Park is to Central Park- less manicured, more natural, equally stunning. We will most certainly be back, as early as next week to catch the fall colors on the sunset again. (We forgot our camera and have busted phones, of course.) The Garden stays open for an hour and a half past dark, which means we’ll be sure to bring some fun LEDs. You should come with – but if you don’t have a Muni ID, get ready to pay the $25 admission. We can get drinks after closing time at the Conservatory.
From the northern Bronx we parachuted to the Upper West Side, where a crosstown bus took us to the Met. Who has ever said that they’ve spent too much time at the Met? The wow factor was jumping off the scales room to room. We are now members there for the next year as well. All told, it was a glorious day, one that would have cost us a combined $150 in admission fees if not for this program.
There will be some who say that this is a classic liberal give-away, like Universal Pre-K or sidewalks. In the short term, they are right. For the year 2016, New York City will in fact be wrapped in a cloud of free, socialist give-away smoke, and the aristocratic class will have to deal with the hoi polloi crashing the New York City Ballet, going wild at BAM, and getting to Carnegie Hall. The truth is that many cultural institutions could probably use some buzz and fresh blood. Whether it’s Snug Harbor in Staten Island, the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens or Wave Hill in the Bronx, a year of friendly visitors might translate into return visits, membership, even a wedding or two down the road.
Those are just the monetary benefits. As a city, this program could help us get our groove back. Everywhere Anna and I went, there were other New Yorkers behind us, couples, families and friends with the same thought in mind. All New Yorkers should have the chance to learn, grow, explore and relax in these hills and halls. At the Garden, I must have heard a dozen different languages – what better way to welcome new immigrants to New York than to show ’em the best that we have to offer. Other cities are following our lead, including Oakland, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Newark. As New Yorkers, we badly need this right now. The latest polls show that a huge chunk of New Yorkers are so steeped in fear and cynicism that they can’t even appreciate what they have. Nothing like a stroll at the New York Botanical Garden to put your mind at ease.
Get on this. You can sign up at various points throughout the city, and you’ll be in and out in 20 minutes. It might take a few weeks before you get the ID in the mail, so you should honestly take care of this by next Monday if you can.
I look forward to re-discovering NYC with you in 2016.