If aliens asked to visit one place to see humanity at its extreme, we would take them to the ever-iconic Times Square. With blinding lights and billboards, sky-reaching towers and jam-packed streets, the streets rarely see a dull day. Times Square is a commercial, tourist and entertainment hub located in Midtown Manhattan at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue in New York City.
Referred to as “the Crossroads Of The World”, Times Square sees an average of 3,30,000 people move through it every day. With over 50 million visitors each year, the tourists have a plethora of activities, shows and shopping to entertain themselves with.
Following the arrival of The New York Times publication tower at 42nd street, the mayor on the 8th of April 1904, named the square from Longacre Square to Times square. The publisher of the publication also convinced the mayor to build a subway stop and name it Times Square. The first billboard appeared on the corner of 46th street and Broadway.
There has been no stopping the development of the Square since then. Oscar Hammerstein, designed three theatres to make the area an entertainment hub and the rest is history.
The times square since the time of inception has become a cultural hub. One of the major cultural events that take place annually is the New Year’s Eve ball drop. Even though the Times publication has since moved, the 1 Times square is privy to thousands of visitors as the crystal ball drops slowly each year in the square.
The blinding neon lights are synonymous with the image of the site. The theatres of Broadway and the various iconic brands have advertised on the Times square. It is one of the only few neighbourhoods with zoning regulations permitting the use of such signs.
With the magnitude of visitors visiting each year, Times Square has its unique challenges. Broadway Street and its slant across the grid of Manhattan and New York create irregular and multi-legged intersections. The acute-angled intersections formed due to this leads to varying sidewalks forcing pedestrians to take the roadways.
This, combined with the enormous magnitude of the visitors on the streets of the city results in 137% more pedestrian crashes than the other areas of the city. Traffic congestion due to narrow roads is also a major issue of concern.
All these issues lead to the city, organising a competition to revamp Times Square and embrace the pedestrian-friendly nature of the area. The American-Norwegian firm Snøhetta won the competition and completed the project in 2016. Since its completion, they have nearly doubled the pedestrian movement area.
Following the closure of the car movement on Broadway in 2009, the firm wanted to create a space that can keep up with the huge demand for space and ways to optimize the existing area by removing the century-old redundant infrastructure and simply the area.
“Conceived as a project whose success would be measured not only by its new aesthetic but also the long-term physical, psychological and economic benefits on its community, the reinvention of Times Square stands as a model for how the design of our urban landscapes can improve health and well-being of its users while providing an important stage for public gathering,” said Craig Dykers, Architect and Founding Partner of Snøhetta.
The intervention site was 5.18 acres on the “bowtie” shaped intersection between Broadway and 7th Avenue. “[The] design creates uncluttered pedestrian zones and a cohesive surface that reinforces the Bowtie’s role as an outdoor stage”, said the firm.
The ground is now covered with precast concrete of two different finishes, creating a difference in textures. This allows the users to privy to the pavements they walk on while enjoying the scenes all around. Steel discs are embedded into some of the slabs to allow for light to be reflected from the billboards above.
For seating, 10 long granite benches measuring between 20 to 30 feet have been installed throughout the site. These benches allow for various seating layouts and are versatile in their usage and nature. They also have electrical plug points for broadcasting purposes.
One of the key elements of the renovation was removing or combining excess traffic signals, trash cans and other obstacles that hindered pedestrian flow. “One of the things we realised very quickly was that fixing Times Square was less about adding things and more about taking things away,” said Dykers. “There was a great deal of obsolete and redundant infrastructure here when we started.”
Since the competition of the project, pedestrian injuries have decreased by 40%, vehicular accidents have decreased by 15% and overall crime by 20%. The air pollution around the bowtie has reduced by 60%. This project amongst many is proof that pedestrian-friendly spaces are essential in creating safe and sustainable streets. Giving the streets back to the people allows for more democratic and healthy spaces while allowing for commercial social and political discourse.
“With a significant positive impact on public safety, air quality, and economic output, the project has transformed Times Square into a world-class civic space that reﬂects the best of Times Square and New York City, allowing the “Crossroads of the World” to retain its edge while refining its ﬂoor.”
- (Times Square by Snøhetta | Public squares, 2021)
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