by M. Kasiming it Real
For the love of all that is still holy, please stop renaming your streets, Atlanta. Or, if that’s too much to ask, at least slow down a little bit and take a more reasoned approach to it. I understand the desire to honor the city’s nationally-renowned Civil Rights icons like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Joseph Echols Lowery and Donald Lee Hollowell, but let’s be a little more accurate and subtle with the naming conventions and the candidates chosen for renaming. Most cities rename one street every decade, while Atlanta seems to do it once per year.
A modicum of respect for tradition is also necessary when picking a street name. A boulevard, by definition, is a wide street with a grassy median between the two directions of travel. A parkway is a winding roadway through a park, lined with greenery and vegetation (think of Ponce de Leon Avenue east of Moreland Avenue). Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway is a four-lane arterial with no median most of the way from Bolton Road to North Avenue. It is not a parkway. At best, it is an avenue. I would call it a road. There’s nothing wrong with either. Many signature streets throughout the world carry these titles: Pennsylvania Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Michigan Avenue, Peachtree Road, Abbey Road, etc. The worst offender of this nomenclature in Atlanta is the recently named John Portman, Jr. Boulevard. This narrow, one-way, four-lane street is about as far from a boulevard as one can get. Its prior name, Harris Street, was much more accurate. It’s a street, plain and simple. Calling it a boulevard cheapens the meaning of “boulevard” and rings of the tackiness associated with a sprawling subdivision of cul-de-sacs in far Douglas County. The prolific use of “Drive” and “Way” also perpetuates the suburbanization of city street names.
John Portman, Jr. Boulevard brings up another issue I have with the way Atlanta chooses to rename streets. In the old days, just the use of a person’s last name was a sufficient honor. Now we feel the need to include not only the first name, last name and middle initial, but also the person’s titles and suffixes. We have Mitchell Street, Washington Street, Austin Avenue, and Walker Street—all named as memorials to respected citizens. The city
leaders did not see the need to include each person’s entire name, and today’s property owners undoubtedly thank them for their savings on stationary costs. If one wants to learn more about the particular namesake for each street, it’s easy to read up on Wikipedia. The street name sign need not include an entire history lesson. Just “Portman Street” would have sufficed. These extra long names barely fit on signs and must be a nightmare for those who live along them. Imagine telling a telephone operator that you live on Atlanta Student Movement Boulevard, which also happens to be a two-lane street.
The third concern I have is the city’s seeming disrespect to previous generations of Atlantans by renaming streets that are either already named for people or have uniquely Atlanta names. If I were looking for candidates to rename in honor of someone new, I would lean toward Boulevard, Northside Drive, Peachtree Center Avenue (FKA Ivy Street), 10th Street or others with generic anyplace-USA names. These names seem to be picked straight out of a Pulte Homes neighborhood name generator. Old Northside Boulevard Acres, anyone? Instead, our humble city council washes away Fair Street, Harris Street, Houston Street, Ivy Street, and Simpson Road. When selecting a new name for the crime-ridden Stewart Avenue corridor, the milquetoast “Metropolitan Parkway” is the best we could come up with. I assume that this is some sort of nod to Atlanta Metropolitan College, but one can never be too sure.
Speaking of Simpson Road, did you know that the same city street changes names four times as it travels from west to east across the city? Collier Drive becomes Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, which changes to Ivan Allen, Jr. Boulevard, which finally becomes Ralph McGill Boulevard. Shouldn’t we at least attempt to make the city a little bit easier to navigate when we consider these name changes? Instead we seem to make it worse.
As for Boulevard, the very fact that Boulevard exists—which is like naming your street “Street”—ties in with the more common complaint of how many Atlanta streets intersect with other streets with the same name: Peachtrees, Ormewoods, Briarcliffs, what have you. If fact, if it were not for the great forsight of the Atlanta City Council we would still have a Boulevard Drive as well, instead of Hosea L. Williams Drive. Want a taste of the past? Go check out the two blocks west of Moreland Avenue that the council forgot to rename. Luckily, the Hulsey Railyard got in the way, or we could have ended up with the intersection of Boulevard and Boulevard Drive.
All of this makes Atlanta look insecure and unsophisticated. It may be heresy to say, but perhaps a little bit of Yankee modesty may be called for here. Take Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard, for instance. Would there be anything less honorific about Abernathy Avenue? I think it sounds classier and more permanent, personally. Plus, it’s a hell of a lot easier on the guys down at the Department of Public Works sign shop.