When I first started visiting New York in the mid-80s, Times Square and its environs were pretty seedy: a necessary evil to pass through on the way to the theatres. And places like 42nd Street were a complete no-go area.
Now the area is entirely transformed: a busy, buzzy neon playground, with hordes of tourists passing through it at all times of the day and night. According to a feature in the New York Times this week, since 1996, the number of tourists visiting Times Square every year has doubled to an estimated 40 million. The daily traffic has jumped up to as high as 480,000, from about 350,000 before 2009.
And more traffic means more eyeballs to the neon billboards, too: one executive estimated to the New York Times that they generate more than $100 million a year in ad revenue. The new sign at the Marriott, eight stories tall and the full width of the block between 45th and 46th Street, generates more than $2.5 million in four weeks.
But there are now fears that its very success could destroy it — a situation that Yogi Berra once described: “No one goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” The concern, according to a spokesperson for planning for the Times Square Alliance “is that the public realm is so unpleasant that we may at some point hit a tipping point, where companies won’t take space in Times Square. We’re not there yet, but the data is telling us we could get there.”
It’s a lesson worth bearing in mind as Leicester Square undergoes its latest redevelopment, which I mentioned here on Monday.