Cover image for Reconstructing Times Square : politics and culture in urban development
Reconstructing Times Square : politics and culture in urban development
Reichl, Alexander J., 1960-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lawrence, Kan. : University Press of Kansas, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 239 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.

Format :


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Material Type
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HT168.N5 R45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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When the big ball drops on New Year's Eve, thousands are there to witness that great glittering sight, while millions more watch on national television. Times Square may be the cultural hub of America, the "Crossroads of the World," but its lights have not always shone as brightly as they do now.

Once a glamorous theater district, Times Square and 42nd Street had degenerated into a neighborhood known for the winos and sex shops of "Midnight Cowboy" until New York's business and arts communities stepped in. These advocates of urban revitalization exploited cultural and historic preservation arguments to transform a low-income entertainment district into a Disney-fied tourist mecca. Where Ratso Rizzo once kicked cars and "hookers" plied their trade, Mickey Mouse now greets visitors from atop a Disney superstore surrounded by rising office towers, theaters, and theme restaurants--all thanks to huge tax subsidies and government support.

Alexander Reichl tells the fascinating story of how cultural politics and economic greed transformed the city's physical and social environment with an ongoing multibillion-dollar redevelopment program, changing the district from a symbol of urban decline to one of urban renaissance. He explains the political significance of the historic preservation and arts-related approach to urban revitalization, showing how it was used to appeal to the upscale values of middle-class New Yorkers often hostile to urban renewal. He also examines the role of the Walt Disney Company in the project and demonstrates its power to redefine a premier public space.

In telling the story of Times Square, Reichl reveals much about politics and power at the city level and their relationship to the development of urban space. He frames his lively narrative with an illuminating account of how historic preservation initiatives at all government levels have displaced large-scale federal urban renewal programs as the dominant approach to urban development, and he shows the importance of political discourse and cultural politics in mobilizing public support for urban redevelopment.

Now that it has been reconfigured for the 21st century, Times Square provides a rich and multifaceted case for exploring the latest trends in urban renewal. Yet Reichl suggests much that has happened here is regrettable: the ousting of low-income citizens to serve commercial interests, the loss of a culturally diverse entertainment district, and the failure to address persistent class- and race-based segregation in a central urban area. By getting to the heart of the Great White Way, Reconstructing Times Square provides an important look at urban renewal-and politics--in a changing America.

Author Notes

Alexander J. Reichl is an assistant professor of political science at Loyola University New Orleans. He studied New York's urban problems firsthand while working for its Department of Housing Preservation and Development from 1987 to 1993.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Using New York City's Times Square in the late 1990s, Reichl (political science, Loyola Univ.) provides insight into the economic, political, and social forces involved in city planning. He finds that Time Square's "reconstruction" has resulted from a collaborative effort of business, government, and community spawned by municipal actions dating back to 1967, during the era of John Lindsay. However, it was not until the administration of Mayor Ed Koch, when political allies and foes joined forces (citing historical preservation and the attraction of the area's being part of the theater district) that the movement to return Times Square to its great past while giving it a clean, modern infrastructure gained strength. This urban revitalization was unique in that corporate sponsors were able to convince the populace that restoring the grandeur of the good old days was the best urban renewal of all. Reichl presents many sociologists' viewpoints in a way that is readable and cogent. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄKevin Whalen, Somerset Cty. Lib., Bridgewater, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The literature on urban politics is filled with case studies of urban redevelopment, though few do more than validate existing knowledge about local growth politics. In contrast, Reichl (Loyola Univ. New Orleans) offers a unique story and interesting insights. The unique case is New York's Times Square: 42nd Street and the famed theater district. For the period from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, Reichl details the complex machinations involved in turning this ostensibly blighted area into a site for office development, tourist-based retailing, and family-oriented entertainment. His insight involves political discourse and the way it drew on historical images, the cultural interests of the middle class, anxieties about urban decline, and fear of minorities to garner popular support and give the project impetus. Ultimately, it was the Disney Company that "saved" the project. More could have been made of the theoretical implications of this fascinating story of developer greed, exorbitant public subsidies, and political connections. Still, the case plus the attention to public discourse make this one of the best recent case studies of urban redevelopment. Recommended for public, academic, and research collections. R. A. Beauregard New School for Social Research

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
1. Times Square as Textp. 5
2. From Urban Renewal to Historic Preservationp. 21
3. Times Square Discourse: From the Great White Way to the Dangerous Deucep. 43
4. Planning the Revaluation of Times Squarep. 77
5. Public Voices and Pro-Growth Politicsp. 115
6. Fin-de-Siecle Forty-second Street: Disneyspace for the Twenty-first Centuryp. 143
7. Learning from Forty-second Streetp. 163
Appendicesp. 183
A. Chronology of Redevelopment Events
B. Organizations Involved in Redevelopment
Notesp. 187
Bibliographyp. 215
Indexp. 225