Friday, November 3, 2023

Q&A with Lynne B. Sagalyn




Lynne B. Sagalyn is the author of the new book Times Square Remade: The Dynamics of Urban Change. Her other books include Power at Ground Zero. She is the Earle W. Kazis and Benjamin Schore Professor Emerita of Real Estate at Columbia Business School.


Q: Why did you decide to write this book about New York City’s Times Square?


A: I wanted to understand how the transformation of the Deuce, moniker for West 42nd Street during the “dark days” of porn, crime, and sex hustling, impacted Times Square and the nearby neighborhood beyond.


In Times Square Roulette (2001), I had written about politics behind the ambitious effort of the City and the State to cleanse the street of its sordid conditions. Twenty years later, the time was ripe to examine what followed once radical change created a new 42nd Street and Times Square.


The movement of development into Hell’s Kitchen, long considered a “transitional” neighborhood by real estate interests, was of particular interest to me.


Telling this story involved going back into history and the role of real estate speculation in shaping change. No one really had looked at urban change through this lens, and I was very interested to tell examine the district’s real estate history.


Q: The author Sharon Zukin said of the book, “Sagalyn’s erudition marches off every page, and her ability to show what Times Square has meant in both modern urban culture and New York politics transforms the history of a single neighborhood into a fundamental narrative of space and time.” What do you think of that description?

A: For 125 years Times Square has captured the imagination of cultural observers, historians, sociologists, and urban scholars, not to mention photographers, artists, and journalists.


The longevity of interest in a single neighborhood and examination of its role in city lore and culture is not that common; very few other neighborhoods have stood the test of time as has Times Square (Greenwich Village and Harlem would be other cases).


In that sense, my narrative of Times Square reflects upon a larger story of how urban culture has changed over the course of the 20th century into the new millennium.


Q: What do you see as some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about Times Square?


A: Most common perception: Times Square is dangerous. Also, New Yorkers never go to Times Square.


Most common misperception: It happened overnight; Disney, the handsome prince, waved a magic wand and awakened West 42nd Street.


Q: What do you see looking ahead for Times Square?


A: Something is always happening in Times Square.


Reinvention is integral to the place, and two new projects are resetting the stage of experience in a post-pandemic era: TSX, a $2.5 billion 46-story entertainment venue (where the developers lifted the famed Palace Theater 30 feet above ground) and luxury hotel; and a complete redo of One Times Square, the building where the New Year’s Eve ball drops, into a visual spectacular replete with branding opportunities.


The thrust of the redevelopment of 42nd Street aimed to bring economic diversity to the area by harnessing the economic development potential of office development. The city succeeded in that mission.


Today, however, given the distressed state of office markets (not just in NY but in cities across the nation), the challenge will be to make sure the Times Square district remains attractive to office tenants and their employees as well as to tourists and theater goers.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A memoir for my family and friends situated in the changing cultural context of my times. Unlike many a memoir presented chronologically, I am structuring my narrative thematically and selecting evocative objects to weave stories around the formative people and experiences of my life.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: There are hidden stories of success in the cultural transformation of Times Square, along with the obvious visual changes and bustling tourist scene, often overshadowed by too much commentary on what many critics consider the “Disneyfication” of 42nd Street, or by nostalgia for the past.


Urban change is far more nuanced that what is evident at first glance, and that is the story I set out to tell in Times Square Remade: The Dynamics of Urban Change.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment