Times Square Red Times Square Blue

What are the civic and humane values and benefits of a seedy strip of city street best known for its porn movie houses, midnight hustlers, and dubious retail stores? If the street in question is New York’s Forty-second, and the strip Times Square, then city authorities and real estate developers have been unanimous in answering: no values or benefits at all. Therefore, theaters must be closed, buildings razed, customers and residents relocated, and a “new” Forty-second Street built which will be a theme park version of a better, cleaner and above all “safer” New York. Manhattan as a mall.

Samuel R. Delany, one of America’s best known novelists and critics and a long-time habitue of the dirty movie dives of old Forty-second Street, offers a different and more interesting answer in Times Square Red Times Square Blue. The importance of this seemingly tawdry piece of real estate, Delany claims, is that the unreclaimed Times Square offered a precious place where people could cross all manner of boundary lines: racial, economic, emotional and sexual. It was an area that not only permitted but encouraged complex relationships that de-emphasized the artificial barriers and underscored that common humanity which linked those who came there. It was, Delany argues, a place where people could be human beings, in all the messy, sometimes inconvenient but often rewarding ways that they express that humanity.

Now, Delany notes, Forty-second Street and the old Times Square are but a memory. They have been made safe for “family values” but at the cost of truly human values. Where once people could come, perhaps in darkness and anonymity to bridge the gaps between them, now there is only the sterile brightness that forbids even fumbling attempts at communication. Times Square may be safer today, Delany concludes, but it is much less human.