The Latest Street Name Changing Ridiculousness

Atlanta has a pretty serious history of street name-changing ridiculousness. A certain street on the west side of the city has gone through four names (based on some serious Wikipedia-ing, it looks like it went from Bellwood Ave to Bankhead Ave in the 1920s to Bankhead Highway to, most recently, Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. You can’t bounce on DLH. But I guess you don’t get robbed on DLH?).

Other egregious offenses that come to mind are the Lakewood Freeway -> Langford Parkway switch, Stewart -> Metropolitan, our Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and, most ridiculous of all, a  stretch of Memorial Drive has already been switched back to Memorial after a brief stint as Cynthia McKinney Parkway.

The latest round of street name changes is up for a vote this week.  City Council is proposing to change Harris St. downtown to John Portman (the architect behind downtown’s gorgeous atrium hotels who is often partially blamed for the neighborhood’s dearth of welcoming street life), and to change Cone to recognize Xernona Clayton, a well-known civil rights activist and close friend to Coretta Scott King.  Both people are living, both people have made significant contributions to the city, and, I strongly believe, neither street name change is warranted. Creative Loafing has a thoughtful editorial about the issue here — “A surefire way not to be remembered: Note to City Council: Street signs are not chalkboards.”

Apparently last month we changed the name of Fair Street to Atlanta Student Movement Boulevard. Does that even fit on a street sign? Does Atlanta have to order extra-long ones? Don’t other cities have street names like Main and Broad and State? OF COURSE we want to remember our city’s heroes. OF COURSE we want to teach our kids our city’s history. OF COURSE we ought to celebrate Atlanta’s role in the civil rights movement, and be proud of these achievements, and tell the stories of the actions of these brave people. But honestly, renaming a street is just not the appropriate medium for these honors. It’s like spreading awareness of life-threatening cancers with an ugly rubber bracelet. Or something. Oops. Moving on.

Sure, these people should be honored – but not by making residents, businesses, gps systems and sidewalk-marta maps and paper maps (paper maps!!), tourists, and taxpayers deal with the time and expense and confusion of changing the names of our roads. Parks, buildings, plaques, statues – all these are appropriate tributes. Not our mailing addresses.

According to the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association, “the legislation will go to the Urban Design Commission tomorrow afternoon — Wed., Dec. 15, 4pm @ City Hall council chambers — and then rushed to the special full city council meeting on Thurs., Dec. 16, 10am at the same place. In the meantime, we need everyone to *call* and e-mail ALL city council members before Thursday! Please spread the word.”

5 Comments so far

  1. Daniel (dtaylor404) on December 15th, 2010 @ 1:04 am

    Well, the rename-to-dodge-a-dicey-reputation trick sure didn’t work on Stewart Avenue. The problem is that the reputation was, and sort-of still is, earned. I don’t imagine Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway will be any different.

    And there are still signs on Memorial Drive proclaiming it Cynthia McKinney Parkway — just as the west side stretch of I-285 from I-20 to I-75 is signed “James E. ‘Billy’ McKinney Highway”. The McKinneys have us surrounded.

    And if they MUST rename a street, what’s wrong with using just the honoree’s LAST name?

  2. Tamra (tlt0912) on December 16th, 2010 @ 11:54 am

    I’m in the “Don’t name anything after anyone who’s still alive” camp, but if you’re going to do it, why DO they use the entire name? Are they afraid that some other guy named Hollowell is going to go around telling people that that’s his street?

    And if they’re going to rename a street, why can’t they rename the WHOLE street instead of having it indiscriminately change names at an intersection? It’s like they’re saying “We want to honor you, but not too much. Here, have half a street.”

  3. Brian (unregistered) on December 16th, 2010 @ 4:13 pm
  4. abby on December 16th, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

    Daniel and Tamra, agreed on the one-name-only position. Though in this situation, if we really HAD to change Cone Street, I’d go with Xernona because that’s a lot cooler name than Clayton.

    And Brian, I understand that even though the Urban Design Commission recommended they don’t change the name of the streets, City Council is still expected to change them. I wrote Natalyn Archibong an email and encourage y’all to do the same to your city councilpeople.

  5. Rashid Z. Muhammad (unregistered) on December 22nd, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

    The Atlanta Preservation Community and Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association will be holding a press conference on this issue next week. Here is the press release:

    Thanks for your support, we need all the help we can get in beating this thing back.

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