Where Chaos Is Normal: How Times Square Operates

Public Space as spectacle is exemplified by Times Square in New York , behind the endless event that is experienced by every visitor to it is a lot of unseen hard work supported by a governance process that make it possible: From Urban Omnibus

 

Times Square runs on spectacle. Bigger and brighter is always better. And though plenty of New Yorkers wear their criticism of Times Square as a badge of local honor, calling it a tourist trap stripped of its former authenticity, there is no denying its place as one of the most iconic public spaces in the world. In recent years, as stretches of Broadway formerly open to vehicular traffic have been repurposed as pedestrian plazas, opportunities to activate the “crossroads of the world” with events, performances, and public art installations have ballooned. The Square hosts hundreds of events, film and television shoots, and public art installations and performances every year. Each has to maneuver around the hundreds and thousands of workers, commuters, visitors, and business owners that pass through every day, and negotiate the regulations and priorities of a host of city agencies.Damian Santucci is Director of Production and Operations for the Times Square Alliance, the business improvement district that covers 41st to 53rd Streets from 6th to 8th Avenues and 46th Street’s “restaurant row.” As such, he’s responsible for overseeing and facilitating all on-the-ground activity in the Square, from a small public art installation to the annual New Year’s Eve extravaganza. Here, Santucci explains the particular challenges and perks of operating one of the busiest and most recognizable places in the world and walks us through the logistics of making the spectacle happen.–V.S.

Varick Shute: What does the day-to-day work of the Director of Production and Operations for the Times Square Alliance entail?
Damian Santucci: I manage on-the-ground operations in the Square, which includes working with our internal sanitation and public safety departments and the various city agencies that need to be involved in whatever is happening on a given day. As a business improvement district (BID), our budget comes from assessments paid by the business and property owners in Times Square, so technically we work for them. Part of my job is making sure their businesses can operate efficiently in the middle of everything else happening around them.

On the production side, I coordinate with event producers and oversee the set up and staging of events — going on walk-throughs, making approvals, looking over drawings, and making changes — and deal with complications that come up during that process: where are the fire lanes? How is a truck going to get through? How is an installation going to be built? Can it stand up to the weather — wind, rain, snow, ice? How is it going to affect the public? I’m there on overnights making sure that things get loaded in correctly or making sure the shoots are abiding by the rules.

Your work is funded by the businesses in the Square, but the area is also one of the most iconic public spaces in the world, from which the public expects certain things. How does the Alliance serve all those constituencies?
We have to balance what’s good for the owners, what’s good for the Square, and what’s good for New York, and sometimes those interests don’t line up. If you’re a business owner in Times Square, the main thing you care about is that people come here and walk past your store. They might not want a variety of public activities that could block their entrance. For example, nobody makes money on New Year’s Eve; the businesses are mostly closed. But New Year’s Eve is New Year’s Eve — it keeps people coming to Times Square and it’s very good for the city. So there’s a tradeoff, and we try to keep everybody happy.

What role do you think Times Square plays in the city and for the people who live here?
When I first thought about taking this job, Alliance president Tim Tompkins asked what the Square meant to me. The best explanation I could think of was my experience with Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Everyone knows Michelangelo and everyone has read about, studied, and seen a thousand pictures of the Sistine Chapel. If you get to visit it, your expectations are to the moon and back; nothing can meet them. When I finally went for myself, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever see in my life. It made my expectations seem so small. That’s how people all over the world see Times Square. I take great pride in making it so that somebody can walk into Times Square and her expectations are just as blown through the roof as mine were at the Vatican. I want someone’s first reaction to Times Square to be, “Oh wow, this place is amazing.” If that happens, we did our job.

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