Mandatory contamination

Based only on my observations around the whole area and without any official confirmation or any other source to endorse my claim, I believe that the most significant contaminating source in Times Square is the light emanating from the massive screens and signs hanging from the facades of the buildings in the area. This light pollution, generated by the excess of LED lights and bulbs, is the result of a zoning resolution (81-732 Times Square Signage Requirements), a mandatory act that forces each building “between 43rd and 50th Streets with street frontage on Seventh Avenue and/or Broadway [to have] [a]t least one illuminated sign [that also] shall be provided with a minimum aggregate surface area of 12 square feet [1.11 square meters] for each linear foot of street frontage of the zoning lot.”

Piles of garbage are produced in Times Square, both indoors and outdoors. The maintenance workers have to constantly gather trash and transport it outside of the square’s domain and the eyes of the tourists. However, the lights are on all the days of the year, all the time. Meanwhile the garbage is flowing, the light remains static, immobile, always shining from above. Sometimes, when it is raining, the light is being repeated on the ground. Each puddle turns into a mirror, reproducing the colors of Times Square’s sky. But once it is dry, the sky continues shining over everyone, polluting the area with short sequences of videos being reproduced repeatedly.

The light contamination in Times Square is regulated, protected and promoted by law. It is part of the intangible heritage of the area. This spatial feature has been an aspect of all the versions of this place since 1937, when the first neon sign was installed. With the heyday of electric energy and the popularization of the light bulb in the last three decades of the 19th century, Broadway theaters, then a still-emerging but a strongly defined group of entertainment venues and theaters, started to use them to illuminate both the interiors and exteriors of their buildings. Suddenly the whole area was covered with this new, safe and enduring invention creating an extreme contrast with the rest of the city.

This encouraged people to go out in massive numbers, not only moving from A to B but also to enjoy the futuristic spectacle of the lights and entertainment. Walking along Broadway after dark became a popular activity that democratized the night in Manhattan. Later, that portion of Broadway would be known as “The Great White Way”, an allusion to the emergence, consolidation, and overstatement of the element that transformed the zone and gave it a new connotation. This glowing, multi-colored light pollution has been an essential part of the attractiveness of Times Square’s public spaces to tourists, perhaps even the most important one. Nowadays the lights are a globally recognized symbol of Manhattan and New York City.