When we moved to New York, my husband, Chris, picked a corner of the city to own. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which commemorates those who died in the American Civil War, is a templelike structure surrounded by formal paved terraces. It’s also a hangout for vagrants and skateboarding teens. Broken bottles, crack vials and newspapers routinely settle into its nooks and crannies.
Chris liked the monument’s grand scale and its stunning views across the Hudson River. He’d sit on a stone wall and read or sketch. Every now and then he would leave the house with our broom and sweep up debris at the monument. He performed this civic act quietly and unnoticed. I was impressed. It would not have occurred to me to take ownership of public space.