Going to Times Square, part I. A brief presentation

This piece of research is proposing you an unofficial tour around The new new* Times Square. Around the spatiality, I have delimited and named as Times Square for constructing my particular case. This one, the one I am showing you here, is located in the same place that the local administration traced as Times Square, and that one, at the same time, is settled in the personal version of Times Square that a Peruvian woman, mom of two and that plays as Minnie Mouse there, has. Those versions are situated in the identical area that the Times Square of the tourism, of the LEDs, of the one that appears in movies and tv shows, and on the one of daily piles of garbage around the whole zone.

My version of this place, as I call this work, is a compilation of other Times Square’s stories. This is a collective work where trough following some trajectories I am going into deep discussions about not only how the Square is composed, but also about how to understand and how to approach a place outside, the one we use to call as “public urban one.”So, the ethnographical work of Times Square after its pedestrianization will be blended here with other two debates: (1) how to make ethnographies from STS, of “public urban places,” and (2) what is that thing we use to call as “urban.” This work is, thus, an epistemic proposal about how to make urban studies with an approach from Science, Technology and Society Studies.

Going to is the first of five steps for describing a specific urban transformation. Nevertheless, we should not misunderstand the intentionality of dividing this process into five different moments. This division, as well as we did before with the ontology / epistemology of particular cases, is purely artificial. It was made only with the intention of explaining, step by step, this methodological proposal. The act of going to the Square is a permanent process of dual intervention that ends at the time we decide to stop our research. This intervention is a dual-mutual situation in the way that the researcher is also being affected and transformed by his study object.

Another highlight of going to the particular case we chose is that technically we do not need to be physically there all the time. We have nowadays other ways of approaching the many different levels the reality has. The inclusion of the digital is giving us not only the possibility of discovering new elements and connections among actors of specific temporal associations but also allowing us to propose new ways to approach and to represent what is happening outside. So, going to a particular case is taking care of it from all possible place, it is opening all the points of analysis we can find, it is letting the multiplicity of the daily life flows.

I chose Times Square as the study object of this piece of research due to, first, a personal interest I have in New York City. Second, because this place presents three particularities that caught my eye immediately after a quick exploration of the location: 1. Its magnetism; 2. Its capacity of hyperbolizing; 3. The surprising lack of interest about this place from both urban studies and STS. As the last reason for choosing this plaza is that, as already pointed above, I found there a perfect scenario for unraveling an ontological discussion that I was carrying out from STS, — specifically from the side of Actor-Network Theory (ANT)— about and between the adjective “urban” and the object that supposedly it represents.

As we can see here, in this brief presentation, going to is more than just being placed in a specific location. It means acquiring an epistemological position for decomposing a field in many possible layers. Studying the world outside is accepting its complexity and multiplicity as well as its permanent process of mutation. But also, we should be aware of the possibility of being transformed by our study objects. Of course, our physical presence in the urban scenario we want to explore is necessary, but definitely, it is not the only thing we should do.

*Two times in recent history a new version of Times Square has been relaunched. The first one was part of the program of Rudolph Giuliani mayoral (1994-2001) against crime in New York City. One of the priorities of mayor Giuliani was cleaning the city of both minor and major crimes applying controversial actions such as the implementation of “ the broken window theory.” Times Square was one of the most notorious places for adult entertainment. Sex shops, porn theaters, drugs, and prostitution affected the perception of security of the area. The Giuliani’s answer was rezoning the place attracting private companies such as Disney, MTV, and ESPN. Nevertheless, there are some voices that claim that the drop of the crime and the beginning of the revitalization of Times Square (and in the City) started before Giuliani, in the David Dinkins administration (1989-1993) or even in the Ed Koch one. For reading more about this see Bagli, 2000 and Soffer, 2012 respectively. The second new Times Square started the Michael Bloomberg era (2002-2013). The pedestrianization, as well as the works for redesigning the area, are the main legacy of this mayoral in Times Square. For a further reading about the mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg see Berg, 2007; Brash, 2011 and Larson, 2013.