I want to invite you to participate in a short spatial transmutation exercise. Once you finish reading each paragraph, please close your eyes and imagine you are in the middle of Times Square experiencing all the situations you are reading here. Times Square is a place surrounded by skyscrapers full of intermittent lights and blinking advertisements which move from one side to the other, a location full of giant screens hanging on the buildings’ facades. In this location you can also find street performances, fast food spots, people holding signs and panhandlers and hustlers of many types. Take a look at all the restaurants and stores located around you, watch —and feel— those hordes of tourists walking from one place to another.
Continuing with the same dynamic, think of yourself walking around one of the pedestrian plazas in this location. Here you can find people from almost any part of the world. It is possible to hear more than ten different languages and many different accents and dialects on a typical day in the same block. Now, imagine a busy sidewalk full of bodies. You are part of a crowd that is slowly walking northbound. Everyone is together but nobody knows each other. You can barely move. Meanwhile, you can see a row of stores to your right side and more people with packages and bags going in and out of the shops joining you in your walk. The multitude is continuously growing, making everything slower and denser.
To your left, there is a concrete barricade separating the sidewalk from a wide Avenue. Yellow cabs and red tourist buses dominating the scene. The barricade’s real purpose is to protect pedestrians from a possible car-incident, either accidental or a terrorist attack. The whole area around Times Square is full of these protections. The materials and shapes change depending on the zone. However, these barricades also behave as chairs, beds, garbage cans, stairs, and decorations. Everything depends on circumstance.
Please continue walking. From time to time you may have to avoid other people going in the opposite direction. There are many flows composed of different crowds walking in all directions. Your path is regularly blocked because someone ahead of you is taking pictures of the advertisements or recording a video of the crowd itself. You have only two options: (i) wait until the photos are taken or (ii) avoid the photographer and continue with your journey. If you choose the first option, please be prepared to be crushed and squeezed by the crowd. If you choose the second be prepared for crushing and squeezing everyone around you.
Now it is time to leave the sidewalk and proceed to another pedestrian plaza but you are not the only one who wants to do that. Many, like you, are preparing themselves to go there. Everybody has to first go to the corner of the street. Skipping groups of people and other kinds of obstacles, finally you reach the corner where you can cross the Avenue. The pedestrian light is red and you must wait until it turns green again. Around you dozens of people are also waiting. Trying to get out of the crowd you end up in another one. The difference is that nobody is moving here. Then, after a few minutes, you cross the street and finally arrive at Duffy Square, the heart of Times Square.
Here you see that some groups of people are taking selfies. Others are seated on the big red stairs over the TKTS Broadway discount booths. There is a group recording a street dancer with their phones. Others are making a video of topless women painted red, white, and blue. Finally, there are few small groups taking pictures of some Elmos, one Captain America, and two Minnie Mouses. Large LED-screens and huge advertisement signals surround the scene. Where is the attractiveness of this place located? Not in one place specifically.