Times Square


1. For one glorious afternoon, my office was the steps of the TKTS booth in Times Square.

2. I’m not saying I got a ton of work done, but in a somewhat surprisingly, all the screenage became almost like white noise. It wasn’t that hard to tune out.

3. For a while I tried to count all the screens facing/in Times Square, but I quickly gave up and wondered if the task could be crowd sourced? Maybe I could create a job for the Amazon Mechanical Turk to count these pix?

4. For many people, the TKTS steps are a vantage point, like a scenic overlook on the Interstate.

5. All the photographing activity made me think about all the “pocket screens” in Times Square. In December 2009, there was an actual count of 364,000 pedestrians in the area. If we assume that 75% of those people are carrying phones or computers with an average screen size of 2″ x 2″, that’s 1,638,000 square inches of screen. Still way less than an acre (about .25 acres), but that’s not even counting all the taxis displays and vehicular GPS devices.

As these devices become increasingly networked, the “power” will not be in the white noise of size but in the magnitude of “connection.”

6. Interestingly, when I met with Glenn Weiss, Manager of Public Art and Design for the Times Square Alliance, he said that his experience with the public art program in Times Square is that somewhat counterintuitively anything over 15′ gets lost in the cacophony of the screens. Up to about that height, and a good project will attract spectators about 5 rows deep. Over that, and the project, even a “spectacular” one, often gets lost.

I think you could argue that above a certain height and the “connection” is lost.

7. Interestingly, the one exception, which perhaps proves the rule, is the Forever 21 billboard, which has a simple set up of a “spy cam” from the billboard pov onto Times Square at street level. In other words, people standing within its penumbra become part of the billboard. Periodically, green screen beauties dance and shake their way onto the (billboard) street with you.

It’s mind numbingly simple interactivity, but there were the crowds gathered 5 deep looking up at the billboard and waving and photographing and paying attention – above 15′.

8. I attended Pavement Politics: Times Square and the Changing Face of New York’s Streets that evening. Prof. Gwendolyn Wright, Columbia University, gave an excellent mini-history of Times Square. In the day, thousands would visit Times Square to get the latest news.

9. In a phrase I particularly loved, Wright said that Times Square, whatever it was called at the time, has always been a site of ephemeral, mediated architecture.

10. Ethan Kent, Vice President of the Project for Public Spaces, talked about some of the simple but effective “moves,” like making Times Square pedestrian-centric, which are part of a larger goal to think of “traffic” as not only cars.

• Stop planning for speed/capacity
• Start planning for community-based outcomes
• Think of streets as public space
• Accommodate diverse users

12. Iterative, feedback loop vs. a straight-line process that hopes to discover a use only the end of the process, when it is often too late