Screengrab via The New York Times‘ “It’s Like I’m Floating: Skating New York Under Lockdown” article by Antonio de Luca & Sam Youkilis
Something weird has been happening.
After finishing work, and/or waiting out the peak midday heat, the obligatory “where you skating” texts go out to friends unconcerned with either of those two things.
More than a handful of times, the answer has been: “We’re at Times Square.”
In ~2015, the city remodeled Times Square and put black marble ledges everywhere. Up until recently, “We’re at Times Square” meant it was 1 A.M. on a Sunday, and one skater and one filmer were waiting out people, security, cops to maybe get two Hail Mary tries before getting booted.
This was a place that most people went out of their way to avoid. Times Square was crowded, full of stores nobody wanted to buy anything from, and restaurants nobody wanted to eat at. Unless you were a tourist, dressed up as Batman, or fighting the good fight against the economic realities of the streaming era and still trying to sell your mixtape CD to strangers for $10 — there was absolutely no reason to ever be there. (Ok, fine, daytime in the AMC theater hopping from movie to movie was always fun.)
And now, it’s a skate spot.
There were always things to skate here. Except, since the city shut down and began to rev back into life, this neon hellscape of tourists and ads somehow began to feel like an actual public space in a way that’s hard to wrap your head around, given how much of an eye-roll the idea of “Times Square” is in our collective consciousness. Half the time we arrive, there are already people skating, and they are not always full-hearted sessions, either. This summer, people end up here just kicking around, clearly in the epilogue of a midtown mission, maybe claiming tricks for next time, but still often left alone by cops and security.
The other night, we were biking through on the way downtown from the new Riverside park, and there were three teenage girls learning how to skate at 11 on a Friday. Nobody would bat an eye at the idea of people learning how to skate at say, République — also a chaotic city center that has become a global skateboard landmark simply because the surrounding cultural factors encourage it — but Times Square has never been conducive to learning anything. In mid-2020 New York, though, it is the sort of expectation-defying little thing that you smile at.
T.J. via @williamstrobeck
Times Square’s modern incarnation is synonymous with rules, security, and swarms of cops. There’s a precinct at its center, and yet, those girls were learning to skate twenty feet down from it, between kids filming TikToks and dudes filming rap videos. (It has also been a frequent starting point for protests this summer.)
The fact remains that the height of the midtown skyline is correlated to the abundance of public plazas that developers were encouraged to place beneath those buildings. Every one of those plazas, though, is donned with a permitted list of who/what/when, and architectural features that discourage “undesirable” activities and people. Many of these features are illegal. Apart from lunch hour in the seven warm months of the year, these plazas sit empty.
E.T. via @shaqwaker
It may be an anomaly and it may end tomorrow (and yes, the bust still depends on not getting a token cop with a chip on his shoulder), but as we begin to dig out of this mess, it would be nice if this European open-endedness stuck around the city’s attitude towards public space.
This summer, outdoor restaurant seating took priority over parking spaces, giving the act of face-to-face human interaction a much-needed win over how much space we forfeit to cars. Things like the McGorlick Park sidewalk sale thrive by sheer will of the community. And spaces that are little more than glorified malls are showing signs of life beyond “you can sit here and look at your phone while you eat a salad from next door.”
The skaters were first to notice the last part. Let’s hope everyone else begins to appreciate why these outdoor communal areas are more important than ever.