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Nov. 25, 2006 — Not your parents’ Times Square

Visited New York City last night and went to a place called Connolly’s up on 45th Street just off 6th Avenue. Had three hours, so I went north from Penn Station to the intersection of 7th Avenue, 42nd Street, and Broadway, commonly known as Times Square.

If you’ve ever seen newsreel footage of V-J Day, or movies such as On The Town or Taxi Driver, you know that the area is perhaps the single greatest people-watching zone in the entire world.

Food and merchandise vendors line the sidewalk. Hucksters hand out flyers trumpeting everything from strip steak to comedy-club tickets. People of questionable mental states (and some who are quite sane) are decked out in colorful costumes.

And especially in the evening, you notice that lights are everywhere. There are three or four buildings with teletype “zippers” made famous by The New York Times Building.

Advertisements — the bigger the better — trumpet Broadway shows, restaurants, shoes, big-box stores, cell phones, airlines, and beverages.

But whereas the lights in the past were colorful neon or were made of hundreds of rows of incandescent bulbs, today’s Times Square lighting comes from big plasma screens. Some are bolted right to the sides of the buildings in the neighborhood, making entire 12-story structures appear to swim and vibrate with the light that washes through the screens.

Gone are the days when Times Square was a dangerous collection of flophouses, peep shows, and prostitution. But is the light pollution of today’s Times Square, and all of that visual and aural stimulus a good thing?

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