Times Square does not belong to New York. The city welcomed over 65 million tourists in 2018. You can be certain that a vast majority of these millions descended on Times Square. When they arrive in droves, armed with dreams of selfies and visions of endless Disney stores, they take a bite of Times Sq and the American brand home with them.
Like Luxembourg, Times Square is its own international municipality. All New Yorkers know that that the laws of time and space are suspended in this mysterious cluster. We avoid it any cost and, instead, send all of our guests there – making up an excuse for why we can’t join them. The place itself, despite having an incredibly rich history, and being very much anchored in New York life, is its own island. It is made out of everyone and no one. It is endlessly busy, but yet there is no one there.
The site is a beacon of international attention, a mark of a visit. People travel to Times Square for the lights and the memories, oblivious to the grotesqueness, or the architectural details, unaware of the web of narratives that kept this commercial hub in its full colorful glory, as opposed to the corporate dullness that was envisioned by Venturi and Johnson plains in their 1984 plan.
There is no visiting New York without visiting Times Square, they say. And hence completing the promise they themselves help to write. They visit the version of New York they imagined, which is in a way what all New Yorkers do on every block of every neighborhood, but never on Times Sq – because all New Yorkers know that Times Sq does not belong to New York.
And so New York has conceded some of its turf to tourists, and that’s okay.. There is no use in crying over days long gone. There is no old, authentic New York for all of us to reminisce over, because authentic is relative. At any point, in any time – someone is missing some old days. Like anyone good therapist will tell you, there is nothing special about you, or this situation. Crying about commercialization or over-intellectualizing these questions boils down to who took my toy.
When walking in any part of the city, there is an unspoken contract, an undeclared hierarchy that locals get special privileges. We know best how to navigate this jungle, so please get out of our way. Tourists are shy of locals getting their tomatoes at Union Sq, or power–walking through SoHo. The reverse is true at Times Square. That appalling cluster of M&M stores, and neon signs is in a perfect equilibrium of foot traffic, quick lingering and overseas FaceTiming. There is no one conducting this multilingual orchestra, no designer can really control it. And there is no sense in intervening, in trying to establish a local authority; his place belongs to the world.
It is an oversight by UNESCO to have not yet recognize it as a world heritage site. No trip to United States will be complete without visiting Times Sq. It is as if each person visiting it takes a part of it with them, not dissimilar from brand equity. Unlike Nike or Levi’s there is no product to buy which is specifically Times Sq , but every alien visiting Times Square takes a snapshot of it with them, and thus propagates the legend..
Times Square might exist in physical form at New York’s 42nd Street, but it exists all over the world. From Jakarta to Rio, and Tokyo. Like a folk tale, the story of a distant place, which inspires people to travel across the big sea. Waiting for visas and enduring immigration bureaucracy, standing in endless taxi lines on their way to a mediocre midtown hotel. To eat the best pizza, to have a steak dinner, to walk the streets of Jay Z, to visit the MoMA – but first, a visit Times Sq. To send a picture, to tell people – I made it here, this place the fables talk about. Times Sq is a liminal space, it is the in–between. Everyone arrives here from somewhere, before they can truly visit New York.