Old man yells at cloud in Times Square*

If there is someone one can name as the “anti-pedestrian plazas of Times Square,” it must be Steve Cuozzo. Cuozzo, a writer, restaurant critic, and New York Post’s real state columnist, has turned himself in the most significant media contradictor of Times Square’s pedestrianization model. I made a compilation of 16 Cuozzo’s columns about Times Square, from 2009 to nowadays. 12 out of them, the 69% of his work, are either directly against the pedestrianized plazas or have a reference against them.

Cuozzo’s work on Times Square is divided into two genres: opinion and (real state) informs. However, I will skip any possible journalist analysis on his columns because I intend to show and, briefly, introduce five of his texts where he is expressing his position against Times Square now. But before to start, what I am pretending to do here is to present a different point of view, a systematic and well-documented one, to the mainstream positive perception of the pedestrianization of Broadway in Times Square[1].

“Times Square yawn chairs” (C1) was its first column about this topic, and it was published on August 18, 2019. This text was a statement against the plans of the Department of Transportation (DOT) of turning the area into a place “only for tourist,” destroying, in that way, a just renewed urban space that was working pretty well:

“It took 25 years to save Times Square from its dark age, and it took City Hall just three months to turn it into a squatters’ camp […] [DOT commissioner] Janette Sadik-Khan closed Broadway to vehicular traffic in the name of easing congestion. But in the process, she managed to turn the myth that Times Square is strictly for tourists into a fact. […] Let her move there if she likes it so much. Or better, give us back the Times Square that worked so well just as it was.” (Ibid)

In the same line that the column before, “End the ‘petting zoo'” (C2) was going directly to the now-former DOT commissioner and her “overreacted” power in Times Square. Published on December 21 of the same year, Cuozzo was also hoping that former mayor Bloomberg did not declare the pedestrian plazas permanent because otherwise, Cuozzo was predicting, companies will fly away from there:

“This used to be Midtown’s most dynamic commercial nexus. But Times Square office leasing has fallen on hard times, with fewer deals being made and lots of space soon to be vacant. […] Companies come and go for many reasons, but it’s clear Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s brainstorm isn’t helping. “You might as well be at a mall in Paramus,” an accomplished Midtown real-estate executive told me. […] One commercial real-estate broker told Crain’s recently that his Times Square clients were fed up with “throngs of tourists on the streets,” and looking elsewhere as a result. […] The word “streets” is key: The bowtie in its ’90s- redeveloped, crime-cleansed incarnation was full of tourists on sidewalks that they shared with office workers and theatergoers. […] Tourists, that is, were an indispensable part of the Times Square scene. But now they’re the whole scene — not just on New Year’s Eve, but every day.” (ibid)

A third column available on April 26, 2010, “Asphalt bungle” (C3), was again against former DOT commissioner Sadik-Khan and her plans to close 34th street. Nevertheless, the columnist turned the discussion over Times Square and its pedestrian plazas:

“Her Times Square “plazas” are even worse — block after block of prison-yard asphalt devoid of meaningful landscaping, furniture, or other amenities, crowded mainly with Big Mac-chomping tourists. […] Not only are they unworthy of their iconic setting, they will be conducive to mugging and “wilding” should there occur even the smallest uptick in street crime on top of the one we’ve already seen. It remains to be seen as well how the tourist takeover will play with the great companies that make their homes astride the Bow-tie.” (Ibid)

“The new Grub Street” (C4) is complaining against the plans of Times Square Alliance, the entity in charge of administrating Times Square, of offering drinks and food in the area. This column was published on April 4, 2011:

“It wasn’t enough that the City gutted Times Square’s historic energy with ‘pedestrian plazas’ full of low-rent tourists — now it plans to cater to those tourists with alfresco food, alcohol and delivery service. Can things get any zanier in the Crossroads of the Backpackers? […] Possibly: The Times Square Alliance, which is behind the proposal, says it’s really meant to keep New Yorkers, not tourists, from fleeing the “Bowtie” for lunch. We shall see if Morgan Stanley bankers, ABC producers and Conde Nast editors want to eat Virgil’s ribs alfresco amid tour-bus hawkers and the Naked Cowboy** […] Maybe Danish meatballs would be more appropriate — Mayor Bloomberg’s ruinous redesign of Times Square, like the metastasizing bike lanes around town, was inspired by sleepy Copenhagen, the capital city of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s imagination.”

The title of the last column of this overview, “Times Square will never be a real part of New York” (C13), is explicit enough to let the reader know the common thread of this document. This text was available on June 1, 2019:

“Since then the plazas became a clown circus ruled by tourists and cash-hustling Elmos. Roving cartoon characters and burger-chomping visitors from Oshkosh are great for the hotel industry, but they stink for everyone else […] Times Square went from a tourist destination that was part of the City to a tourist destination apart from the City. A facsimile of what people think New York is like — tall buildings, loud noises, lots of people — yet isn’t really what New York is […] City Hall’s clumsy attempt to fix a Times Square that wasn’t broken cost the great landmark its soul — and perhaps its commercial viability as well. Only time will tell whether it’s too late to save.”


[1] Nevertheless, this is not a sort of dialectic exercise of facing two opposite points of view to show which one is either correct or superior. Also, this is neither an effort to vindicate a sort of (fake) neutrality based on just adding voices. Instead, what I plan to do here is opening new perspectives about a common phenomenon to highlight its simultaneity and multiplicity —despite that, at first sight, it may seem I am just offering one single angle more— not only as an accumulation of stuff but also as a mixture of variations and contradictions.

* In 2011 Gothamist, and independent online media of New York was mocking Couzzo’s attitude of doing “nothing more than going on a cantankerous rant about the pedestrian plazas” calling him “Steve ‘He Who Yells At Cloud’ Cuozzo” (del Signore, 2011, April 4). The nickname referred to a meme from the Simpsons where a grumpy old man is exactly doing that, yelling at a cloud.

** The naked cowboy is a popular recurrent character in Times Square.

References

del Signore, J. (2011, April 4). “Yep, NY Post’s Steve Cuozzo Still Hates Pedestrian Plazas”.

Steve Couzzo’s columns