No barrier to creativity
Times Square is always an obstacle course. If you do not trip over the photo-snapping tourists, there are the street vendors of everything from pretzels to portraits and scientology. Theatergoers, shoppers, office workers, fans outside MTV's studios, buskers, and the usual bunch of freaks; they all take up their bit of space at the crossroads of the world. But in recent months, the pavements have become even more congested thanks to dozens of new bollards, and giant concrete and steel flower pots, intended to prevent truck bombs.
It is the same in some other parts of the city, and in Washington, which is possibly now less a city of trees and more a city of bollards. More than three years after the September 11 terror attacks and 10 years after the Oklahoma City truck bombing destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building there, America is getting more permanent about its defences.
And a certain competitiveness is starting to creep in. Contrast the utilitarian flower pots outside the Reuters building on Times Square with the new, more elegant, almost art-deco style wooden receptacles (well wooden on the outside, anyway) that front the Conde Nast building. That includes the offices of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who, one imagines, would accept nothing less. Then there are the globe-and-sundial type of metallic and concrete objects facing the street in front of the new Times Square Tower.
The aim, it seems, is to make something considered necessary appear at least interesting. The companies producing these barriers have an enormous range of options - from the ugliest, most utilitarian barrier (basically a length of thick concrete) to the bizarre, including golf ball bollards and a whole line of concrete zoo animals.
Architects are also talking of reinforcing the normal street furniture - waste bins, seats, lampposts, parking meters, and the like, to turn them into hardened barriers, to spare us additional obstacles. In Washington, they have been taking steps to introduce protective ditches, like the ones that surrounded some private European estates in the past. So far, no one has mentioned moats, but that cannot be far away.
Many of these defences are supposed to prevent a huge truck bomb packed with explosives from getting to a building, although the amount of damage that would be caused if a device were detonated in the middle of a place like Times Square is unthinkable. Also, with the next threat often very different from the last one - think biological or chemical weapons, for example - the barriers' main use may be to add some shrubbery to an otherwise treeless Times Square (as well as an additional place to stub out cigarettes).