Obvious, perhaps, and reductive, but something seemed to fall into place when I was in Times Square last week:
I suppose I'm one of those people who really annoys other more “pragmatic” people by taking issue with the renewal of Times Square, specifically the main stretch of 42nd Street.
Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker went all Pete Hamill in ‘04, in describing this certain ‘affliction’:
There are, of course, people who miss the old Times Square, its picturesque squalor and violence and misery and exploitation. Those who pointed at the old Times Square as an instance of everything that capitalism can do wrong now point to the new Times Square as an instance of everything that capitalism can do worse. ...they end up being sentimental about anything, shedding tears about muggings and the shards of crack vials glittering like diamonds in the gutter.
Um, no. When I worked at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd, I would occasionally walk over to TS and was witness to its last long death spiral, from about 1990 to 1995. Its absolutely not that I liked the old Times Square or enjoyed the experience of having to brave drifters, hustlers, and the generally creepy electricity of the place. It didn't seem as though I had the much editorialized nostalgie de la boue. But rather, I think, the layering of signs, styles, architecture, shine, grit, old and new, the fleeting and the hold-out was, at very least, organic. It was built by use, if that makes any sense. What bothers me so much about 42nd street today is the sham "spectacle," the enforced antic gaiety of it all. The subway entrances are especially irksome, and empty, gestures. I'd had trouble reconciling my feelings about the old and the new Times Square and it bothered me that I couldn't quite define my opinion. I think its as simplistic as this: bad “authenticity” trumps bad “renewal.”

[I took this image of one of the 8th avenue subway entrances in around 1994. In relation to this view, behind me and to the left, there was a small arcade with two video games, a photobooth and an ancient “fortune telling” machine that I recall being something like this one. When I last went to that photobooth, it was, like the area around it, just about to give up the ghost. It spit out photo strips for free but because the developing fluid was shot the images were obscured by a disturbing black...miasma. For a moment while posting this I wondered why I didnt take more photos--I dont have any of the arcade. Then I remembered that, in the old TS, with my big honkin' camera around my neck, I was too nervous!]

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