Signs of the Times
How did a seemingly incorrigible part of New York, which countless mayors had promised, but failed, to clean up, change so drastically?
Times Square Remade: The Dynamics of Urban Change by Lynne B. Sagalyn. MIT Press, 440 pp., $40.
In 1981, the president of the 42nd Street Development Corporation complained to a reporter, “Do you know there hasn’t been a new building on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues for forty years? … It’s almost as if that block is immune to change.” By the early 1980s, West 42nd had become known as “the meanest street in America,” its maze of porn theaters, disreputable hotels, all-night cafeterias, and “massage parlors” home to drug addicts, prostitutes, and shady characters. Times Square, long the image that New York City presented to out-of-towners, had fallen on hard times. Its famous electric signs had gone dark, its billboards blank. The area ranked first in the city for felonies and net crime complaints. It was a violent and forlorn place, and it seemed destined to remain that way.
Twenty years later, the sex industry had vanished, crime rates had plummeted, and a frenzy of new construction was in progress. How did this seemingly in…