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Times Square 'desnudas': Will New York rein in topless street performers?

A business alliance seeks to divide Times Square into designated zones for pedestrians, public events, and separate areas for solicitation where costumed characters and the desnudas pose for photographs.

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Costumed characters are photographed near a sign in Times Square that advises visitors of the rules when interacting with various street performers asking for tips, Sept. 2, in New York. Concerned that Times Square is becoming less wholesome, the New York Police Department is assigning plainclothes officers to discourage aggressive panhandling in the tourist mecca that long ago rid itself of hookers and junkies.

Craig Ruttle/AP

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Since the summer, critiques of the topless women decked out in body paint who are known as ‘desnudas’ – a Spanish word meaning naked – in Times Square have risen sharply. On one side, many people, both men and women, are inspired by these women’s brave artistry; on the other, their critics say that the desnudas are creating a harmful environment for families, thereby driving away tourist dollars.

A business group called the Times Square Alliance, which includes both elected officials and business leaders, has proposed restricting the women to a designated zone within the square, after allegations that the desnudas have been aggressively panhandling.

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After meeting on Thursday, the Alliance released a report calling to divide Times Square into designated zones for pedestrians, public events, and separate areas for solicitation where costumed characters and the desnudas would be permitted to pose for photographs. It was not immediately clear where these designated areas would be located within the square. The group is planning to meet again to outline a more detailed plan.

"Times Square should be a place of freedom of expression, freedom of movement and creativity, without being a free-for-all," Tim Tompkins, the president of the group, told the Associated Press.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have both expressed concern about the proliferation of the desnudas in Times Square and its impact on the famous crossway’s family-friendly image. Charges that they and other costumed characters have been harassing tourists for money have abounded in recent months.

"The city wants to move quickly. It doesn't want to let this linger,” City Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents part of Times Square, told the Associated Press.

In response to criticism that the desnudas’ body art is too risque or inappropriate, Mey Ovalles, a performer who recently moved to New York from Venezuela, told The New York Times, “I don’t do nothing bad because the people like it ... It’s like any other job in another place.”

The task force is scheduled to meet again today. They will be delivering further recommendations to Mr. de Blasio, with a comprehensive strategy scheduled to be unveiled by October 1.

When asked about the proposed changes to Times Square that will alter how tourists interact in and approach the space, de Blasio told the Times, "We're going to do this right."

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This report contains material from the Associated Press.