… in 2009, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg closed a swath of Broadway to traffic, north and south of Times Square. Four years later, that pilot program was solidified with the construction of an archipelago of granite-paved, bollard-enclosed, vehicle-free plazas, designed by the firm Snohetta.
Mr. de Blasio said last week that he might uproot those plazas to curb the hustlers. …
… while Times Square certainly has its own peculiar ecology, there is nothing new or unique about the tensions created when city streets are turned into malls.
Many malls date to the 1960s and ’70s, when suburban shopping centers were draining the life out of downtowns large and small. The prevailing wisdom held that if you took the cars off Main Street and replaced them with wide, inviting pedestrian promenades — and bus service, in some cases — shoppers and visitors would return.
Some cities still embrace their malls. Minneapolis, for instance, has begun a $50 million renovation of the 47-year-old Nicollet Mall, a landscaped 12-block stretch of Nicollet Avenue set aside for pedestrians, bicyclists and buses.
However, other cities came to the conclusion that a major commercial thoroughfare works best as a fully functioning street. In 1986, the village of Freeport, on Long Island, decided to reopen its Main Street to traffic after the failure of a pedestrian mall.
Ten years later, in Chicago, Mayor Richard M. Daley wielded a jackhammer to begin the demolition of the mile-long State Street Mall. It had been created in 1979 by widening sidewalks and narrowing the roadway for use only by buses and emergency vehicles.
“In the context of the time, it seemed like something worth pursuing,” Tim Samuelson, the official cultural historian of Chicago, said in an interview.
The mall sapped State Street of its energy and did little to revive shopping there.
By contrast, said Tim Samuelson, the official cultural historian of Chicago, the new State Street, with the return of car traffic, “seems greatly to have revitalized the street, especially with the introduction of residential living in downtown Chicago.”
The growing residential population in downtown Minneapolis will be well served by a renovated Nicollet Mall, David Frank, the city’s director of economic policy and development, said in an interview.
“Our No. 1 priority is to make the street fantastic for pedestrians, and No. 2 is to make it more green,” he said.
A renovation in 1989 looks increasingly dated and shows signs of wear and tear, Mr. Frank said. “Every 20 or 25 years, the climate finishes eating one of our streets, and we need to redo it,” he said.
James Corner Field Operations of New York, the landscape architects of the High Line, designed the latest renovation of the Nicollet Mall. It began this summer with the laying of new utilities and is expected to be completed in 2017.
“Especially if streetcars are added, the new Nicollet will have a chance to reclaim former glory,” The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote in an editorial in January.
However, it added this cautionary note: “Aggressive panhandling and loutish, threatening behavior must end. If the mall continues to function mainly as a kind of default daytime homeless shelter, then the mainstream public will not regain the confidence it needs to return to street level — no matter its beauty.”