Reimagining Times Square

This week’s New York Magazine contains a really interesting piece about a $45 million plan to overhaul Times Square. According to writer Justin Davidson, the project will begin next fall with the goal of making the area a safer, cleaner, less congested place where New Yorkers may actually want to spend time:

Curbs will vanish. Pedestrian areas will be leveled and clad in tweedy concrete tiles that run lengthwise down Broadway and the Seventh Avenue sidewalks, meeting in an angled confluence of patterns. Nickel-size steel discs set into the pavement will catch the light and toss it back into the brilliant air. Instead of perching on metal chairs, loiterers will be able to sit, lean, sprawl, jump, and stand on ten massive black granite benches up to 50 feet long and five feet wide…the square will be de-­cluttered of the traffic signs, bollards, cones, and boxes that cause foot traffic to seize up. With any luck, crowds will gather and mingle only in the center plain between the benches, leaving free-flowing channels on either side for the rest of us, who have somewhere to be, people!

Like most New Yorkers, I try to skirt Times Square at all costs. Due to unavoidable day-to-day circumstances, though–working in an office right in the middle of it, needing to cut from east side to west–I’ve found myself there more than I’d have liked, over the years. My typical M.O. is to weave around gaping tourists and get out as soon as possible. But I’ll admit that I’ve had surprising moments when I could see the appeal in the whole gaudy, flashy, over-commercialized, crowded sensory overload. During a particularly long, cold winter, I was shocked to find comfort in the brightness and buzzy energy as I’d rush across the southern end of the square, several times a week. And when you think of how tourists must feel when they first step into Times Square, surrounded by all those lights and people, you can imagine that it must be exhilarating. (Or, at least I can. I remember how wowed I was the first time I saw the Hong Kong skyline which, like Times Square, is just a slew of neon signs set against a dramatic backdrop of buildings, when it comes down to it.)

Tourist empathy aside, I don’t know if I’d ever intentionally spend time in the area. Even with the planned changes, I don’t think it’ll appeal to me. There’ll still be the massive chain restaurants, over-the-top signs, blatant commercialism, crowds. But if, like the NY Mag article hopes, the new design eases congestion, contains the masses and opens up thoroughfares for us locals, then I’ll gladly welcome it. I’m fine handing over the bulk of Times Square to tourists–as long as I have somewhere to walk.

(Image via NYMag)

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