by Peter Moskos, Vital City
In 1981, Rolling Stone dubbed 42nd Street between Times Square and Port Authority Bus Terminal the “sleaziest block in America.” The city’s decline could be seen all along 42nd Street. From Grand Central Terminal to Bryant Park to Times Square to Port Authority Bus Terminal—despite a heavy police presence—beggars, drug addicts, hustlers, pimps, prostitutes, con artists, and legitimate stores relieved visitors of their cash by request, guile, or force.
Midtown Manhattan is unique in New York City in that it has deep-pocketed constituents with the financial means to invest in the area’s well-being. At a time when Bryant Park was considered by many to be a lost cause, the Rockefellers helped establish the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation in 1980, which became a business improvement district (BID) in 1986, soon after Albany permitted neighborhoods to establish business improvement districts. The Times Square BID began operations soon after, in 1992.
That same year, Bryant Park re-opened to public and critical acclaim. The city’s crime drop had not yet happened, but the redesign of Bryant Park was a significant achievement in utilizing a broken windows philosophy to reclaim public space by reducing disorder, crime, and public fear.