Why Times Square?

Why Times Square? That is a ubiquitous question that people ask me every time I used to talk about the study object of this piece of research. Times Square now, the current version we have of this place, looks like a location where one cannot find anything serious for conducting an academic piece of research. It seems like an infertile field utterly dependent on external forces, but at the same time, an exhausted and packed and sealed one under the label of either gentrification-Disneyfication or the official one of revitalization. The usage of each one of those two terms depends on who is telling the story of this site. However, in both versions, Times Square appears like a finished object, a black boxed location without so much to offer.

When I talk about “Times Square now”, I am referring to space resulted after the pedestrianization of Broadway Avenue, between the W. 42nd Street and the W. 47th one. The process of restructuring this place started in February 2009, and it was part of a supposed temporary plan that aimed to reduce the traffic congestion, as well as to improve the quality of the air, and to decrease the pedestrian-car accidents in the midtown Manhattan. The idea of pedestrianizing Broadway was initially proposed for being carried out during one year, but after some evaluations, the Bloomberg administration made it permanent.

The intention of taking out the cars from that portion of Broadway and making Times Square “a pedestrian plaza” was a controversial decision at its time. It was due to the opposition most of the owners of the local stores around the Square, as well as some people in the media. The first group was concerned about the fluency of buyers to their business and the second was complaining about, more or less, the decision of “turning the Crossroads of the World from the vibrant, frenetic, center of the universe into a butt-littered suburban parking lot. [That was considered as] an idea so ferociously dumb”. (Peyser 2009, May 27

So, This is the spatiality, the arbitrary location (Candea, 2009) I decided to focus on as my primary study object for writing this book: The Times Square’s version from 2009 to the present, the one after and during its process of pedestrianization. However, other Times Squares are also deployed here. In chapter five you can find, in a set of stories and vignettes, a link between the past and the present of this place. I recognize the importance of a historical approach as a strategy for opening the discussion to more actors and, in that way, having the possibility of including other voices that can help us to create better and more accurate descriptions.

Nevertheless, the aim of this work is neither being a historical product nor using History as its primary source. I consider it is essential to make this clarification here because one can be accused of falling into two misunderstandings. The first one is incurring in the perpetuation of some historical and social determinism, related to the transformation of places in contemporary agglomerations. The second is that this kind of writing is related to historiography, in the way that I am giving a symmetric treatment to any sources, not just giving primacy to the ones I collected “in the field.” In that way, this research is the result of an ethnographical discussion, opened to any field and source, about a series of processes and trajectories that we know now as Times Square and that we can locate in a historical timeframe after 2009.

There is a double condition related to the selection of Times Square as the field of this piece of research. On the one hand, we have a clearly delimited artificial site, easy to locate in a map as well in a temporal frame: our own demarcation of the field. On the other hand, we have a place that is a composition of many places happening simultaneously. In other words, going to Times Square is constructing a bounded provisional ethnographical location over an always fluent multiplicity. It recognizes the complexity of the particular, situating and limiting our sight through the proposal that ”only partial perspective promises objective vision” (Haraway 1988, 583). Summing it up, we are talking here about a multi-located ethnography of a particular site.

Fieldwork map

Click on the image for resizing it