For more than a century, Times Square has mesmerized the world with the spectacle of its dazzling supersigns, its theaters, and its often-seedy nightlife. New York City’s iconic crossroads has drawn crowds of revelers, thrill-seekers, and other urban denizens, not to mention lavish outpourings of advertising and development money.
Many have hotly debated the recent transformation of this legendary intersection, with voices typically falling into two opposing camps. Some applaud a blighted red-light district becoming a big-budget, mainstream destination. Others lament an urban zone of lawless possibility being replaced by a Disneyfied, theme-park version of New York. In Money Jungle, Benjamin Chesluk shows that what is really at stake in Times Square are fundamental questions about city life—questions of power, pleasure, and what it means to be a citizen in contemporary urban space.
Chesluk weaves together surprising stories of everyday life in and around the Times Square redevelopment, tracing the connections between people from every level of this grand project in social and spatial engineering: the developers, architects, and designers responsible for reshaping the urban public spaces of Times Square and Forty-second Street; the experimental Midtown Community Court and its Times Square Ink. job-training program for misdemeanor criminals; encounters between NYPD officers and residents of Hell’s Kitchen; and angry confrontations between city planners and neighborhood activists over the future of the area.
With an eye for offbeat, telling details and a perspective that is at once sympathetic and critical, Chesluk documents how the redevelopment has tried, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to reshape the people and places of Times Square. The result is a colorful and engaging portrait, illustrated by stunning photographs by long-time local photographer Maggie Hopp, of the street life, politics, economics, and cultural forces that mold America’s urban centers.