Over the past forty years I have visited the Times Square District many, many times. I was recently there with my family and was amazed by the never-ending transformation of the district. Of course the sleazy side of the area was cleaned up decades ago, but the transformation continues. I was struck by the innovative ways in which the area has become like no other as a destination development.
I was interested to again review the work of Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and how they went about the research and planning for the precinct. While there is only one Times Square, there are salient lessons here for all destinations.
Observing the Times Square District, its visitors and individual locations, a few of the things that caught my eye were:
- The outstanding placemaking results from government – business collaborations in creating gathering places and micro destinations where people want to be. Similar results can be found at nearby Bryant Park, The Highline and the Flatiron District (where I used to live).
- The digital environment is pervasive. While neon signs were always part of the visual environment, vast digital screens promoting everything from brands, movies and sports to dazzling augmented reality advertising and the amazing Art Everywhere project. They dominate and create a high energy ambience – yes, even more than the area already has. On a personal level, apps and other mobile applications are the new compasses for visitors from every nation exploring the area.
- A major marketing force for Times Square (and New York City) is its celebrity. Not only has it been a focal point for historic events and celebrations, e.g. iconic end of WWII images, New Year’s Eve broadcasts, Broadway shows, and the backdrop and star for countless movies.
- The power of reality television has added a new level of celebrity with young visitors clamoring for selfies at associated with reality television shows such as Real World, Cake Boss and Project Runway. It’s famous for being famous. Personalized walking tours and TCM Movie Tours provide new levels of interpretation and immersion into the history of entertainment and celebrities in the district.
- Consumer brands have become compelling visitor attractions in their own right by luring their loyal customers with opportunities to immerse themselves in their brands. M&M World, Hershey, Disney Store, Discovery Channel and more have become tourist attractions for their fans with the same appeal as nearby Madam Taussards and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
But so much of this is fleeting. Times Square is riding wild and dynamic trends. Staying on the leading edge through innovation, technology and celebrity will make Times Square an exciting spectacle for decades to come. While there is only one Times Square, there are principles at play that we can all learn from. Even in small communities.
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