Heading to Times Square?
Grab a chair in the pedestrian plaza, relax and look around. You likely won't find peep shows or crack vials, much less prostitutes or drug pushers. Instead, you'll see a vibrant hub of activity, with bustling stores and restaurants, and plenty of tourists.
And yes, there might be a few Elmos or Spider-Men -- and even an American flag-clad woman, who, in lieu of a costume, has removed her shirt and painted her breasts.
This isn't a return to the days when Times Square was a seedy, and, to many, frightening neighborhood. Thirty years ago, the area was known more for X-rated movies and muggings than for Broadway and silly restaurants with singing waiters.
Today's Times Square remains home to plenty of family-friendly flurry. A few women in body paint aren't going to change that.
Times Square's newest street performers aren't scary and aren't doing anything illegal, as long as they stick to friendly banter, smiles for photos, and gentle requests for money. They have the right to free expression, which should be protected, especially in NYC's cultural hub.
Don't quash the city's creativity by overreacting -- like removing the pedestrian plazas, as Police Commissioner William Bratton suggested, or making it illegal for men and women to remove their shirts in public, as state Sen. Ruben Diaz suggested.
Instead, focus on more reasonable ways to create an environment that's comfortable and safe for city residents and tourists. Make sure aggressive or inappropriate behavior isn't tolerated. Consider guidelines to increase consistency for street artists or performers, perhaps requiring signage to display pricing, for instance. Also, revisit last year's effort to license masked characters as an additional way to mitigate bad behavior.
Take a walk through Times Square, relax and enjoy the sights. If you don't want to watch a performer, look the other way. There are, after all, plenty of fabulous city wonders to see.