Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"No one goes there anymore; it's too crowded"

What does Times Square fear? Maybe it's ferocious success. According to today's NY Times, Times Square is so choked with visitors that regular people -- like office workers and New Yorkers who like the theater -- don't want to go there any more. The situation brought to mind the famous Yogi Berra quote, "No one goes there anymore; it's too crowded." David Chapin, Hirofumi Minami and I strolled Broadway a couple of years ago, and we spent an hour at Times Square. It was pretty empty of people, so we got to study the billboards, and the crowd amusements. There are other spaces like that, I've found. The Ramblas, in Barcelona, can get so packed with people it's hard to move. Even the small street where I lived one summer in Paris -- St. Andre des Arts -- could get so full of folks going back and forth that it was hard to move. St. Andre des Arts has been packed with people for as long as Paris has been a city -- it was the route from the center to a market that was just outside the walls. That market was tax-free which attracted shoppers. There is still a market in the same area, now swallowed up by the city. The history of the enceinte, obscured by time, lives in the ways people use the street. Times Square has a different history and a different dynamic, but appeals to the same instinct to be with the crowd. Except for the paradox that we don't always want to be with the crowd. Nobody really wants to go to work through the crowd. We want the crowd for special occasions, like New Year's Eve, but not every day. So the crowd is not the people who live or work in the area -- it's the tourists. My friend and colleague, David Jenkins, lived near Times Square as it was making the transition from red light district to Disney. He was exhausted by the growing crowds, and eventually moved away to Philadelphia. Apparently others are making moves out of the area as well. When the good folk who support the everyday move away, the character will begin to change again, the hustlers growing in number and power, attracted to the crowds and the dreams of crowds. Times Square, then, might change again, its spaces claimed for new uses and new celebrations. Cities swing between this crazy abandonment to the needs of the crowd and the more quotidian respect for the lives of the inhabitants. Cities need both -- but they can easily let one or the other slip away, creating imbalance and danger.

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