Sunday, December 20, 2009

The New Times Square: Snowball Fight Something To Write Home About

Video: Snowball Fight in Times Square Last Night

22 hours ago, James Sims tweeted a picture of a snowball fight in Times Square. That photo was retweeted all over Twitter, catching the attention of ABC News' Twitter stream, and finally onto Boing Boing. It was, as a gentleman in the video above remarked, "Something to write home about." (see more photos on Flickr).

Jennifer 8. Lee, a New York Times reporter until recently, retweeted the photo as well, and added a perceptive note: "massive times square snow ball fight possible bcbway closed to traffic. thank you mayor bloomberg."

That photo has captivated the attention of many people. Four kids who have laid claim to starting the whole thing have set up a Facebook page to commemorate the event; the wall is currently populated with comments from many who were in attendance, sharing their photos, videos, and comments. "This was the best snowball fight ever," wrote Gary Smith. "I love NY!!!"

But exactly what is so captivating about a snowball fight—an event that happens everywhere, every year? Yes, it was the first major snow fall in New York City, which might have added to the general interest in snow related news. Yes, it took place in Times Square, New York City, arguably ground zero for focus on any number of events. But there seems to be more at play here, something else people find captivating. As Jennifer 8. Lee noted, this could only happen because Broadway has been closed to traffic in that area of Times Square. It is this idea of participating in the city you live in, without fear or concern of constant traffic and noise, free to be part of the landscape in anyway you feel, that must surely be part of the attraction people feel toward this event. To really Own This City, as Time Out NY is fond of saying, sharing it with just yourself and others on the ground.

As I walked around last night in the unusually quite and desolate streets of New York City during heavy snowfall, it occurred to me how nice it was to be able to do this, free of speeding vehicles and the unbearable, artificial noise of this loud city: "I'm pretty sure this is how it was supposed to be."

I am pretty sure this is how New York City is supposed to be. The narrow streets in the interior of our city, made for walking, not driving. Cobblestones and cafes. The vehicles, for the most part, restricted to outlying roads. A city where pedestrians have the run of the place in it's interior, opting to have a snowball fight in the middle of Times Square if the mood strikes.

Though not often sold this way, the issues of transportation and public space are social and political issues. They can be designed to create equality or inequality, and too often they are designed with inequality in mind. Initiatives such as Summer Streets are positive steps in addressing these inequalities. As the issues of transportation and public space get discussed as social issues and not technical one, it seems inevitable that whole neighborhoods will become car free in the future. As Enrique Penalosa, former Mayor of Bogota, Columbia is fond of saying, "We can have a city that is very friendly to cars, or a city that is very friendly to people, we can not have both."

In Times Square last night, people witnessed a city that was friendly to pedestrians, and perhaps every retweet of that photo could be seen as a vote in favor.

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