Times Square – Rebirth or Revanchism?

It’s crazy how different an area like Times Square, originally Longacre Square, is today than what it was a century ago. The once poverty-stricken, crime-filled, prostitute packed Times Square was changed drastically into the family friendly Time Square of today.  By 1960, the New York Times had called the block on 42nd street between 7th and 8th avenues “the worst block in town” (Reichl 1999). In 1984, there were 2,300 crimes on the block, with 20% of them being serious felonies (Carlson 2010). What made the scene shift from crime and prostitution to a family-friendly environment that tourists from all over the world cherish?

Reichl made me aware of the public policy decisions that set this atmosphere shift. Planned by a public commission in 1901, the city announced that construction would begin for the city’s first subway line, making 42nd street the central to the project. Stressing the importance and unified approach for the subway, public and private sectors worked together on this project for a variety of both of their economic interests. Wealthy people moved farther uptown to newly constructed respectable neighborhoods were built in response to increased economic growth. Reichl defined suburbanization as “the migration of wealthier residents to less developed areas outside the central city” which sounds to me a lot like gentrification. Affluent people moving into a neighborhood and driving up the prices there. Yes, many people weren’t living uptown and it was mostly abandoned or rebuilt for manufacturing. By 1890, Times Square was no longer “uptown.”

Because Times Square has the largest concentration of advertising space in the world,  it became the became a stage for commercial culture and not just the entertainment district. As a result of the Idustrial Revolution and increased production of goods, Times Square tourism increased which foreshadowed the tourist-filled Times Square of today. On becoming more family friendly, Disney began presenting live stage versions of its movies in 1992 in the New Amsterdam Theater. Ideas that good would triumph evil came with the presence of Disney and symbolizing a new popular entertainment shift of the neighborhood. Over the next few years, Disney bought the New Amsterdam Theater and brought companies with similar ideals to work alongside them. From puttin on Beauty and the Beast to now Phantom of the Opera, the New Amsterdam Theater greatly impacted the vibe of the block. The theater went from an office and a nightclub to the home of so many feel-good shows. Disney renovated the theater and decided to build a hotel, entertainment  and retail complex in 1995 (Kennedy 1995), known today as E-Walk with movie theaters, Madame Tussaud’s and Ripley’s: Believe It or Not, among other family friendly attractions.

To answer the prompt of the topic, the Revanchist movement came to be characterized by hatred, bitterness that comes with loss, and a loathing of modernity, dedicated to stopping the forward flow of progress. Rebirth, however,  has more of a definition of starting to flourish or increase after a decline. Times Square was skewed towards rebirth because progress and modernity increased in the area in the last century. The effects of the subway and of Disney in the neighborhood greatly impacted the neighborhood in the spirit of rebirth and revival. A place rampant with crime and prostitution became a tourist destination filled with Mickey Mouse and visiting families.

 

Reichl, A  (1999) Reconstructing Times Square: Politics and Culture in Urban Development

Carlson, J (2010) Flashback: Times Square, 1986 Gothamist http://gothamist.com/2010/11/08/flashback_times_square_1986.php#photo-1 (Last Accessed March 13, 2017.)

Tucker, J. A. (2016) The New Revanchism: The Theme of Politics Today. Foundation for Economic Education. https://fee.org/articles/the-new-revanchism-the-theme-of-politics-today/ (Last Accessed March 13, 2017.)

Kennedy, S G (1995). “Disney and Developer Are Chosen To Build 42d Street Hotel Complex”. New York Times. p. B2. Last Accessed March 13, 2017.

 

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