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Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Sunday, 2 May 2010 11:40 UK

Times Square - 'crossroads of the world'

A police vehicle moves along 44th street near Times Square in New York Sunday, May 2, 2010, as an investigation into an improvised car bomb gets underway
An estimated 37m people visit Times Square every year.

It has long been feared that New York's Times Square, at the heart of the city's theatre district, would become the target of an attack.

Located only four miles away from where the 9/11 attacks happened, it is one of the busiest tourist areas in the city.

With its pulsating neon signs and never-ceasing movement of people, it is in many ways symbolic of New York.

More than 37 million people visit Times Square each year according to timessquarenyc.org - during peak hours of the day, the square often becomes so congested that people are forced off the pavement to walk in the streets in the middle of traffic.

It has been described as the "crossroads of the world" and is located where Broadway and 7th Avenue meet at 42nd Street.

More than 30 theatres are located in the area.

Glitter and sleaze

The place was once known as Longacre Square, but took its current name from the Times building when the New York Times opened offices on 42nd street in 1904.

Times Square

The New York Times has long since moved away, but an estimated 1m people crowd together there each year to watch the annual New Year's Eve ball drop from a flagpole on the roof of the former headquarters of the newspaper.

As New York grew rapidly in the 1910s and 20s, Times Square became a hub of theatres, music halls and expensive hotels.

But with the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s, crime increased in the area and glitter gave way to sleaze.

Times Square became known as a dangerous area, associated with gambling and prostitution.

The then New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani led a campaign to "clean-up" the area in the mid-1990s.

X-rated movie houses and peep shows were closed down. The atmosphere changed dramatically.

Some say the square has lost its "edginess" and instead become a victim of tourism.

This is not the first time that Times Square has been evacuated for fear of attack.

In December 2009, the square was briefly closed down when a vehicle without licence plates was seen as suspicious.

The vehicle turned out to contain only clothing.

And in March 2008, a bomb caused minor damage to a military recruitment centre on the square.

The centre was empty and no-one was injured in the pre-dawn blast, which smashed a glass window.



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