Police officers aren't always the best placemakers
Image from a street artists news webpage.
The Associated Press reports, in "Could Times Square's pedestrian plazas disappear to get rid of panhandlers?," that NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton suggests that one way to get rid of aggressive pandhandlers and other problem people in Times Square would be to remove the pedestrian plazas that were created there during the Bloomberg Administration. From the article:
One possibility being considered is a separate zone just for the women. Another is to require them to obtain a license. And then Bratton shocked the civic-minded by suggesting that the city do away with the pedestrian plazas.
"I'd prefer to just dig the whole damn thing up and put it back the way it was," he said in a radio interview Thursday morning.
When de Blasio was asked about Bratton's comments a short time later, he confirmed that it was an option the task force has discussed.
"That's a very big endeavor and like every other option, comes with pros and cons," said the mayor, who added that the plazas would be given "a fresh look." ''You could argue that those plazas have had some very positive impacts. You could also argue they come with a lot of problems."
Image by Robert Miller via the New York Post.
Problems with aggressive street artists and panhandling have been increasing ("Why Times Square is becoming the worst place on earth," New York Post). The Times Square Alliance has called for licensing costumed artists performing in the public space.
Although apparently the issue is more complicated and the ministrations are coming from a much higher level than the Police Commissioner.
According to the newspapers ("Violence in Times Square could send businesses fleeing" and "The business fears behind the sudden Times Square furor," New York Post), what's driving the issue is concern that the problems are hurting the market for commercial office space. From the New York Times article "Mayor de Blasio Raises Prospect of Removing Times Square Pedestrian Plazas":
But there was some support for Mr. de Blasio, from an atypical pool of bedfellows.
Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, which represents large corporations, said many employers in Times Square “would be happy to have the plaza disappear.” "It’s not the plaza itself; it’s the activity going on in the plaza,” Ms. Wylde said in an interview. “I’m not questioning the urban planning, traffic management purposes of the plaza. The issue is whether or not it’s creating an atmosphere that is creating inconvenience and potential danger.”
Broadway, Manhattan, New York City.
From an urban design, placemaking, and public space perspective, the creation of public plazas along Broadway Avenue in Manhattan has been seen as a major step forward by cities, a step that is increasingly emulated across the country ("Broadway Boulevard: Transforming Manhattan’s Most Famous Street," Project for Public Spaces; "New York Traffic Experiment Gets Permanent Run," New York Times).
In many ways, NYC is a special case, and hard to generalize from.
They have extremely liberal interpretations of public speech laws as it relates to dressing up and playing to tourists and asking for money ("Topless in Times Square: A Legal View," New York Times).
The most typical government response to problems is "elimination," the suggestion for getting rid of the pedestrian plazas is typical of this, when the real problem is unruly people.
Granted that's a lot harder to deal with and an ongoing issue, but it addresses the problem directly and fundamentally without diminishing quality of life for the majority of people.