“Fifth and Sixth Avenues teem these days; the thronging pedestrians maneuver under rules skimpier than those of a bagataway.” Most every New Yorker would agree with this assessment, which could extend from Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side to Lower Broadway in Soho, and nowhere moreso then that bastard child of show business and commerce, Times Square.
Yet these words were written not by a New Yorker, but The New Yorker, in 1956, when none other than John Updike endeavored to plot a safer course through Midtown. “As a service to readers who are too frail or shy for good-natured hurly-burly, we decided to plot a course from the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center that would involve no contact with either Fifth or Sixth Avenue,” he wrote in an unsigned Talk piece.
Among the challenges to contend with were a chain-link fence to be shimmied under and the tight quarters of Orbach’s department store to be navigated. Tad Friend charted the same course in a similar story two years ago and encountered far worse: “The last half century has stripped midtown of spacious department stores such as Ohrbach’s and Stern’s, and fortified it with guards, visitors’ logs, and electronic-card-access gates.”
Both pieces were very much on The Observer’s mind while working on last week’s stories about the city’s new plans to create 6½ Avenue, a series of crosswalks connecting a chain of public plazas between Sixth and Seventh avenues spanning the West 50s. If Updike’s experience is any indication, this pedestrian shortcut is much in need. And yet to read reports of the pathway in the city’s dailies, you would think a heinous crime were being committed. Read More