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For the moment, at least, Times Square is once again a spectacularly crazy place—crazy enough on a recent afternoon to make a seasoned police officer shake his head with a bemused grin and mutter, “Just when you thought you’d seen everything …” People were sitting on lawn chairs in the middle of Broadway. If, as the anthropologist Mary Douglas asserted, dirt is matter out of place, then this crowd of pedestrians occupying vehicular lanes represented an invigorating sort of filth, a thrilling overthrow of order.

So far, this revolution is thrown together with nothing but orange cones and cheap patio furniture. The fearless Transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, decided that it’s better to take back turf for foot traffic first and worry about piazza-tizing it later. The absence of design results in a triumph of urbanism. Suddenly, the power relationship between people in and out of cars has changed. Now drivers pass through the area at the sufferance of pedestrians, rather than the other way around. Cars don’t honk as they nose crankily into a crosswalk; they wait politely to cross the new mall, giving drivers a moment to reflect on the wisdom of taking a different route.

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