by Clive Irving
New York City's Times Square is a misnomer. It never has been a square, in either form or function. It's okay, if you wish, to call it the Crossroads of the World, although that too is grandiose. Occasionally, on New Year's Eve or to mark epochal events like the end of a world war, it is appropriated for mass celebrations. Otherwise, it's a traffic intersection. This week, however, Mayor Mike Bloomberg has cleared a section of Broadway of traffic in an attempt to create an urban space where people can sit and . . . do what, exactly? Stare at one or two nice old buildings and a lot more really ugly newer ones? Nice of them to provide some cheap lawn chairs, but this is so not a square.
A square, or piazza, or plaza, should be a place where cafés and bars line each side, where people-watching is the great sport, where every current of a city's life meets, converses, flirts, and is inspired to flights of philosophy and fancy. Somewhere, for example, like the Piazza del Campo, in Siena, that jewel of a Tuscan city. As you approach the Campo from a curving side street, long before you see it you can hear the hum. It's not traffic. It's the light, gaseous exhaling of pleasured voices and laughter wafting to the heavens. It's everything a real square should be, and then some.
To be fair to New York, there is a very handsome public space only a block east of Times Square, Bryant Park. It too is a confluence of activities--people eating snacks, sharing stories, and gazing across an expansive lawn. There's even an old-time carousel for kids to ride. But it is not a square.
So, as I gaze down from the offices of Condé Nast Traveler on the lawn chairs in Times Square and despair at the sight, I invite you, dear reader, to send in your own pictures of favorite squares, piazzas, and plazas from your travels so that we may remind ourselves (and Mayor Bloomberg) of what composes a true public space. Upload your photos to the Condé Nast Traveler Flickr Pool. Or go ahead and e-mail your pix to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will publish some of our favorites on the Daily Traveler in the days to come.