Can Times Square's Makeover Win Back the Heart of New Yorkers?

Justin Davidson examines the latest "reinvention" of Times Square, sealing the deal on a move toward pedestrianization that began three years ago.
April 25, 2012, 9am PDT | Ryan Lue
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Hot on the heels of last month's look at Times Square, New York City has hired architectural firm Snøhetta for a major street-level redesign of the space. And while the Square has garnered a reputation as a gaudy tourist trap, the new plans aim for a kind of gritty austerity that, officials hope, might make it more familiar and inviting for locals.

In developing a vision for the space, the design "fended off proposals for colored LEDs embedded in the pavement, for ramps, staircases, pavilions, digital information kiosks, heat lamps, trees, lawns, canopies, and, of course, more video screens," Davidson writes. Rather, the project focuses on a minimalistic conclusion to the pedestrian experiment that began three years back: "Ever since vehicles were banned from Broadway between 42nd and 47th Streets, in 2009, Times Square has felt like a temporary art installation." The Times Square Snøhetta envisions will bring the street level with the curb, uproot the fixtures that once delineated the sidewalk, and install concrete benches out of the way of heavy foot traffic.

"We're not trying to make an instant photograph of happiness," says Snøhetta co-founder Craig Dykers. "There's been quite a lot done to make the city feel more delicate, which is good, but we shouldn't forget its industrial history. At Times Square, there were rivets on the old marquees, the steelwork on the signs was industrial, and the lighting was naked bulbs. We want that whole history to be reflected in the experience of the space."

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Published on Sunday, April 15, 2012 in New York Magazine
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