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Final Thoughts On NYCC 2012

Alert readers of this page may note that I haven’t mentioned any of the webcomickers who were in Artists Alley at NYCC, and that’s for the very good reason that I never made it over there.

Let me sum up; no, wait, there’s too much. Let me ‘splain.

On Saturday, the entire inbound stream of attendees was directed (by bullhorn-wielding staffers on the streets surrounding the Javits Center) to enter only at the 38th Street (northern) side of the hall. Got that? A few thousand people a minute are streaming into the hall, on the second floor, in a southerly direction. Artists Alley, as previously noted, was in an annex that is reached by navigating to the second floor, at the 38th street side, and then proceeding north towards an access tunnel. The people trying to get to AA had to fight against the much larger in-flow of people into the hall. I took one look at that mess from the exhibit floor and decided that this was indeed the day that bonds of fellowship died and I was not braving those rapids to see people that I very much wanted to see.

Which is a shame, as I’m told that Artists Alley was very nice, with plentiful ATMs, lots of space, and natural light.

Now, we have explored in the past how the Javits Center is, on its face, a nightmare to deal with. There are still lessons to be learned and improvements to be made, and presumably some of that will come as NYCC gets older and acquires institutional memory; the showrunners at SDCC have four decades of collective experience, with a slow ramp-up in the intensity and size of the crowds to hone their skills at booth placement, aisle design, and line wrangling. Therefore, I want to respectfully suggest that the NYCC showrunners find the people from SDCC with those skills and drive a dump truck full of money up to their front doors so that they will share their secrets, because there were some bad situations on the show floor this year.

Understand that when I say that at times on Saturday the crowds at NYCC were the second most hazardous crowds I’ve ever experienced in my life¹, and the worst I’ve ever experienced in New York City, I am comparing against some very bad crowds. If you look very closely in the famous Vincent Laforet photo of the 38th Street ferry docks during the blackout of 2003, you can just make me out in the crowd² and that crowd was not as bad as some of what I encountered in the 1100 aisle this past Saturday. On the docks, we were at least all moving in one direction and managed to let people off the boats so some of us could get on; on the showfloor, it was complete immobility to the extent that the thought crossed my mind If there is a panic at this time, I am going to be seriously injured or killed.

So what can be done? SDCC sees similarly-sized crowds without this degree of problem, but they have a few advantages: more floor space, many entrances to the show floor (the JVCC floor is accessed in relatively few places, in some cases by escalator), a wide concourse off the floor for moving from one end to the other, wide “travel aisles” for people trying to get places instead of browse, and no construction³. The last issue will take care of itself eventually (and partially alleviate the floor space issue), the others will take some work. If the number of “you have to be kidding me” booths were reduced, the travel aisles become possible. If an endcap booth were sacrificed every couple aisles, the space could be used for people wanting to get photos of cosplayers, instead of doing it in the middle of the goddamn walkway4.

One more thing that SDCC has to a greater degree than NYCC is massive panels that take a few ten-thousand people off the floor at a time; unfortunately, this ain’t gonna happen, because the Javits again is working against us. In San Diego, the panel rooms are laid out such that this aisle can be designated as one-way going to the panels, and that aisle as one-way coming from the panels, and the circulation of attendees flows continuously. In New York, the largest panel area is essentially a blind alley, with no way to manage flow other than “everybody goes in and also comes out in this same area”. You may append whatever intensifier to the word “cluster” that you wish to describe this situation. Honestly, I was surprised at times that the fire marshals didn’t shut down the entrances until the crowds had thinned (it’s happened in the past).

In a way, all of this (barring the construction issues, which I believe we’ve hammered into the ground by now) is the result of NYCC being a victim of its own success. Too many people want in for the amount and shape of the space that’s available. While there are certainly improvements that can be made by laying the floor out smarter (there was a massively popular dancing videogame demo stage just inside one of the show floor entrances that backed up crowds to the point that no ingress was possible) and exploiting techniques for crowd management (which largely comes down to figuring out which booths will have massive lines and separating them), there’s ultimately going to be no getting around a fundamental truth: the show is over capacity, and it’s probably necessary to both limit tickets more aggressively and reduce the number of exhibitors.

¹ The worst, most hazardous crowding I ever experienced was on a lovely spring day in Osaka, as my wife and I attempted to make our way out of the main rail station while a measurable percentage of the population of Japan tried to make its way in. It was seriously a case of “lift up both feet from the floor and you will not fall” and I developed some seriously sharp elbows as a self-preservation technique.

² I am standing next to an absolutely lovely young lady named Chrissy, who was wearing an absolutely stunning cocktail dress and stiletto heels, who was trying to make her way back to Jersey City. We became Disaster Buddies that day on account of no way was I letting her try to navigate her way home dressed like that by herself.

³ Somewhere, there is a graduate student in traffic engineering writing a thesis on how the Javits Center construction affects human flow patterns.

4 For this one, the organizers and even the venue are blameless; for a city that despises tourists that stop in the middle of the sidewalk so very, very much, New York is astonishingly willing to allow people to block aisles for photos. I suggest that an elite force of staffers be given cattle prods to put an end to this and also to enforce line discipline.

Saturday morning I was having flashbacks to my old middle school which was operating, due to overcrowding/underfunding, at about 150% capacity or higher. There were times where it was just one wall of humans trying to bypass the other in the hallways and had to have massive shoving matches to figure out which way the traffic would flow. I felt -more- claustrophobic here.

Is there a larger suitable venue in the New York area? Might NYCC eventually have to move to the New Jersey side of the Hudson? Or could we see an attempt at a second con in the New York area to attempt to alleviate the pressure on this one?

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