Two intersecting planes

Union Square

Wednesday 6am: NYU students walk through on their way to classes, hunching their shoulders to protect their faces from the November cold.

Men and women pass in business attires dodging each other in perfect synchronicity to get to work. A blank, monotonous, parade of faces cascades out of the subway and into the square, gravitating to the edges of the space and dispersing through cross-walks like liquid through valves.

17th street: on a pedestrian plaza in the north side of the park, a group is hunched like football players on timeout, their backs turned away from the hustle and bustle of the crowd. There are 6 of them, dressed in blue jumpsuits, a large figure, two blue intersecting planes, on the back.

The meeting lasts for about 5 minutes, after which the men disperse to cover a 32 square block area ranging from 14th street to 17th street, from 1st avenue to 6th avenue.

They use high power water-hoses to erase graffiti from the previous day. They approach trashcans engraved with the same engraving, take out the bags, and replace them with new ones, up to 150 in a matter of hours. Then, they walk up and down walkways and corners, making sure the area is kept nice and tidy for the incoming crowds.

Union Square Partnership Garbage MenThe figure can be seen everywhere in the space; in the bulletin board, where local events and activities are announced; in long flags hanging down from the square’s lampposts; in subway stations, in stairs and lawns throughout the park.  Jn pedestrian areas and sitting areas, in standing areas and waiting areas; next to cafes, bars and hospitals, above (and sometimes below) ground… pulsating through the space as if from behind.

As the day progresses, leisure creeps into the space. The farmer’s market buzzes with activity as other groups, like the Hare Krishnas, sit down in front of one of the subway entrances and draws a considerable crowd.

Children of families, coming as far as the Bronx, play in the top of the metal semi-sphere of the northeastern playground, and office workers sit down on benches for their lunch breaks, next to the homeless and the drunk. Even the garbage men in blue jump suits take a break from their cleaning up.

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