This past spring my job involved bringing two architects from Gehl Architects – Urban Quality Consultants to Montreal and Quebec City to give two-day Master classes to professionals in city planning and design. On the first day of the training, David Sim, partner at Gehl Architects and our main presenter, showed images of the new and improved Times Square. Street space that had before been reserved for automobile traffic had been transformed, practically overnight, to include bicycle lanes, larger pedestrian paths and public space in which to sit, stand, talk and enjoy the city.
This remarkable transformation of one of the most famous public spaces in the world made me think back to my first experience with Times Square. In 2006, my high school graduating class visited New York City. I disliked the city so much during that first visit that when we arrived at our next destination, Washington, D.C., I bought an “I ♥ D.C.” t-shirt just to spite New York.
I especially struggled with Times Square, where we walked nonstop among a constant flow of pedestrian traffic. There was nowhere to stop or sit or stand in the public realm, only stores and restaurants offered some escape. The blaring sound of traffic and honking all around us, we finally took shelter in the giant Toys ‘R Us, sitting on the floor of a quiet aisle. My pictures from Times Square are a stack of yellow blurs – taxis racing along past us. At the time, I really felt these photos captured the essence of the city.
The present Times Square, a place where people can sit and stand, catch up with friends or enjoy a coffee, is a drastic improvement on the one I experienced in 2006 and which is immortalized in the photos of so many tourists taken over the years of yellow blurs and bright lights.