New York City won’t be tearing up pedestrian plazas in Times Square to chase away topless women and Elmos—at least not yet.
After the first meeting of the task force on “topless individuals and costume characters” today, its co-chairs, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and City Planning Commission Chairman Carl Weisbrod told reporters that the city would finish its constructions of the pedestrian plazas, expected to wrap up sometime in 2016.
“We want to see the plazas completed, and then we have to look and see how they work, and I think everyone would agree on that,” Mr. Weisbrod said today. “Maybe they have to be tweaked, maybe they have to be redesigned, but we can’t make that decision until we have them completed, they’re up and operating. And our goal is to make sure that they are up and operating and function as best as they possibly can and enhance the Times Square community.”
Ripping up the plazas—something first publicly suggested by Mr. Bratton—had been floated by Mayor Bill de Blasio as one potential option for ridding Times Square of desnudas, women wearing only body paint on their breasts who pose for pictures in exchange for tips. But the idea was met with disdain from elected officials—including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the two Council members representing Times Square, Corey Johnson and Dan Garodnick—as well as urban planners.
The task force—made up of various people with interest in the Times Square neighborhood—seemed to side with the Alliance, Mr. Garodnick said.
“The consensus of the room clearly favored keeping the plazas, there’s no question about that,” Mr. Garodnick told the Observer.
At the very least, all parties agreed that continuing the construction of the plazas made sense, Mr. Bratton said.
“You didn’t hear any yelling, screaming, gnashing of teeth. Nobody jumped out the window up there,” Mr. Bratton told reporters who had staked out the meeting at City Hall. “I think the general discussion up there, the report that the Manhattan borough president put out and then the one that came out with the Times Square Alliance was the suggestion, that I didn’t hear any objection to, that the construction that’s underway be completed—which includes the plazas but also the very necessary completion of the Seventh Avenue construction.”
The lawmakers and the Times Square Alliance today put out their own plan for the area—calling for the city to consider making it a public space that could be better regulated and to consider splitting up the area into zones: “civic zones” for passive use, “flow zones” for pedestrians, and “designated activity zones” for enterprises like the desnudas or costume characters, whose activities are allowed under the First Amendment. Mr. Garodnick noted that all of those solutions operate under the assumption the plazas remain in place, making it important to resolve that question first.
“A lot of the folks in the room had signed on to our proposal, so we hope that it will be given a fair consideration,” Mr. Garodnick said. “It was really an opportunity for people to state their particular concerns and also support for the concepts that we put out, and it was not the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-figure it all out meeting.”
Mr. Bratton wasn’t quite ready to jump on board with the suggestion to split the area into zones, including one where the pictures-for-tips activity would be allowed.
“I’m going to have to give some thought to that,” Mr. Bratton said. “Would it make it easier to control? Certainly. Would it in fact work? That’s one of the issues that’s going to require a little more thought, a little more conversation going forward.”
Neither Mr. Bratton nor Mr. Weisbrod ruled out the possibility of getting rid of the plazas at some point in the future, after the construction is finished. But Mr. Johnson, the councilman, said he felt pretty confident after today’s meeting that there wouldn’t be traffic driving through the streets anytime soon.
“Nothing is forever in this world, though I think the plazas have a solid future,” Mr. Johnson told the Observer. “What was the discussed is the city completing the construction of the plazas—they were not fully done—so if they’re going to put money and resources toward completing them, that means at least in the short-term, they’re here to stay.”
That, and the proposal from the Times Square Alliance, was welcome news to other city lawmakers who had panned the idea of removing the plazas, including Comptroller Scott Stringer.
“I’m happy that the conversation has moved from, you know, the absurd to something more substantive,” Mr. Stringer said during an unrelated press conference today.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called the report from the Alliance “a good step moving forward.”
“The idea of having us really be thoughtful about what changes need to be put forth, I welcome,” she said.