The surprising lack of interest in Times Square

The scholar works about Times Square seem to disappear at the end of the 1990s. It is not that nobody wrote about Times Square anymore, the issue is that almost any recent work about the Square is about the nineties or before. The Era Giuliani is the period that has attracted most academic glances due to during this time, depending on your point of view, either the cleaning or the Disneyfication of Times Square began. The new Times Square turned on a rezoned place without its yore essence: drugs, sex, and high crime rates. New stores and big corporations replaced the unbridled and wild spirit of the zone.

The redesign of Times Square carried out by the Bloomberg Administration was less interested, and less provocative. That new-new Times Square seemed to be just the continuation of the Giuliani’s plan for keeping the zone clean. My theory concerning why this version of Times Square is perceived in this way is based on the identification of four possible misconceptions that could explain why it has been marginalized as a valid study object in the fields that use “urban” in their names.

During many conversations across different scenarios, I have discussed the “why” of my decision of choosing Times Square as the locus and the focus of this research. It turns that working on Times Square results attractive, exotic and absurd at the same time. I have compiled here some of those people’s opinions and thoughts about this place and my work, linking them with each one of the misconceptions I want to present.

There is nothing to see

The things happening there are not possible to be translated to a tangible study object. Everything in Times Square seems so liquid, so unstable, so difficult to grasp. “It’s just people walking across stores and watching some screens.” The temporal associations, the group formations, the social interaction are ethereal and Times Square is just as an almost non-place.

There is not like either Bryant Park or Union Square where you can see real groups interacting. There are social situations, class, gender, age. Times Square is just a tourist trap. It is a lot of tourists gathered walking together across tons and tons of advertising, that’s it.”

Times Square is a matter of something else 

Times Square is perceived just as the result of other domains. “It is not determinism, but Times Square looks like the spatialization of some capitalist movements that converted an area of New York into the biggest thematic park for propaganda and advertising.”

In other words, if someone wants to carry out a piece of research about Times Square only need to follow one of the mainstream domains in Social Sciences, such as Economy or Politics for explaining what is happening there.

In the end, an urban landscape —it does not matter which one is— results being either just a location where something else is happening or a product of an external force. The particularities of the places turn into a context that is used for improving and making up the writing process.

It is an ascetic artificial tourist spot

Connected to the second misconception, this third one is about that Times Square is an artificial spot that does not belong to New York City anymore. “I’ve been in Times Square few times and this place is not linked to this City at all. However, it is for sure the playground and the showcase of many multinational corporations.”

I guess this is the most extended idea of the four I am proposing here. It looks like with the “cleaning” of the Square in the 90s this place lost its chaotic charm and its wild spirit that were tying the zone with the rest of the city. This situation turned the whole area into an ascetic touristic spot without anything to explore. What is happening there is not real, it is just a representation.

There is nothing to do

We have been seeing this place so often and in so many different ways that it looks like everything about Times Square is already said. The inflection point was the pedestrianization of the portion of Broadway Avenue that was crossing the area. “What else can you say about Times Square? Sadly, you are living in a bad time for talking about it. We are not living either in the 80s when the place had something to say or in the 90s when the area was in process of being renewed. Nowadays nothing is happening there. Yes, perhaps some accidents and any other minor issues had occurred, but nothing you can formally use for study. Times Square is a boring place for doing a piece of research.”