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Times Square starts at 42nd Street, between the H&M and the Walgreens, and stretches north for five blocks. I stood there a few days ago, illuminated by the glow of a canary yellow ad for Spectacles by Snap. I found the ads as colossal as ever, but the space had changed since my last visit. The usual swarm New Yorkers and tourists with selfie sticks had thinned. Times Square felt spacious. I could actually meander, look around, breathe.
Today, Times Square celebrates the completion of its six-year transformation from a congested thoroughfare into a European-style piazza. “We doubled1 the amount of pedestrian space,” says Craig Dykers, co-founder of the architecture firm Snøhetta. Remaking the Crossroads of the World follows a broader trend by cities around the world to create more pedestrian-friendly spaces that favor people over cars.
Snøhetta’s understated design won it the competition to redesign New York’s most famous attraction. And it will help the area thrive in the years ahead. Like many of the world’s best public plazas (think Trafalgar Square in London, or the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy), the new Times Square will be shaped by the people who use it—not the other way around. “The square is the ultimate diverse, multi-use, dynamic, changing public space,” says Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces.
Urban planners call this approach placemaking, and it requires humility. Focus on design, and you’ll create something with an aesthetic people can pin on the architect. Focus on placemaking, as the Project for Public Spaces has for 40 years, you end up with a blank canvas for the community’s interests. The new Times Square does exactly that. “Snøhetta did good, because they didn’t do a whole lot,” Kent says. […]