NYC Local Law No. 39 (Herman Katz, City Clerk, Clerk of the Council) established “Sister Nicodema plaza” in 1973. The documents from the archive describe, in several pertinent locations scattered throughout, “[a] triangular area bounded on the east by Metropolitan avenue, on the north by North 5th street and on the west by Havemeyer street.” This is how space begins and ends.
We use our eyes for seeing. We use our feet for walking. We walk through the plaza, we observe the tree, the shrubs, the granite book inscribed in memoriam. We would sit if we encountered benches, in that case we might even bother to inquire after the name. “Meet me in Sister Nicodema plaza,” a phrase not yet spoken in Brooklyn; at a minimum the description from the archives would be a necessary follow-up.
And perhaps: “By the dry cleaners.” “Across from the church.”
But probably not: “In the upper left hand corner of Zoning Map 13b.”
Or we might agree, without speaking a word, to stand in the same anonymous place if we were waiting for a bus. But then our sense of the space would be so vague it would be meaningless. I am standing, at a point, on a street, in a city, in a world, in a universe, with a world, with a city, with a street, with a point, where I am standing, waiting for a bus, here, now, etc.
Even the neighborhood has changed. “Greenpoint people are asking for this!” Today the consensus is Williamsburg. And how many of the ancient Greenpoint people are asking? How did Father Ruggles’ letter become the whole of this indigenous flock, and where can its constituents be found for questioning (other than somewhere in the vicinity of Zoning Map 13b)?
Landmarks are unreliable; useless epithets without context. Herodotus tells us that some of the earliest known geometers were the ropetyers of Egypt—the Harpenodapts as they were called by the Greeks. The frequent inundations of the Nile silted property lines beyond recognition; the geodetic rope was a critical tool for these ancient specialists (today it is the geodetic tape of the surveyor). Their skill was so renowned that Democritus once boasted that not even the Harpenodapts could excel him in the art of drawing lines. Names, trees, stones, shrubs; the Greenpoint people. These are incidental and contingent. Only real property is immovable.
Lines, calls, radians, boundaries. These are real property.