The threat to New York City’s public spaces

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Can New York keep its public spaces pleasant? To see the importance of policing “nuisance” crime, consider three key areas in Manhattan — Times Square, Bryant Park and the Columbus Circle fountain.

When then-Mayor Ed Koch wanted to turn part of Times Square into a pedestrian plaza in 1982, theater mogul Gerald Schoenfeld warned it would “become a place for vendors or three-card monte operators.”

Twenty-five years later, Mayor Bloomberg did it — and Schoenfeld’s prediction has come true.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton joked to a Broadway Association lunch this month that “there is no longer a Broadway. It is…a trailway.”

Cookie Monster, Elmo and other characters soliciting, er, donations are the “unintended consequences of a well-intended act,” Bratton said.

That doesn’t mean Bloomberg was wrong. By the mid-2000s, annual visitors to New York were up by 17.4 million over the 1990 level; tourism’s up another 10 million since.

And almost everyone who comes to town stops by Times Square. With other added foot traffic from workers from new office towers and commuters from new apartments to the east, tearing out the pedestrian plazas would be untenable.

But so is the disorder that now plagues the square.


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