15 September 2007

[pdx] N. (Your Name Here) Blvd

946. The process over naming streets to honor personal heroes in Portland has become like living next to the State Hospital: it's a short walk to insanity.

It's encouraging to notice that I'm not the only one who things so: Incursio chimes in, as does the Café Unknown, to whose eloquence we all must bow in this case.

It must be said, tho' it be expected, that I am most decidedly not against naming civic landmarks in favor of neglected American heroes. Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez do happen to be two of the most underrated in the American canon. And I actually was in favor of renaming Union Avenue to MLK (maybe it was the fact that it was making racists cry that did it. I love it when racists cry).

But it's gone from being a grand gesture of honor to a hard-tipped projectile for Getting Your Way™. If a group wants something bad enough, they just take it up to ramming speed and bull on through.

I do recall the wake of the MLK renaming that pretty much everyone seemed to sit back and say "hey, that could've gone a bit smoother, neh? Let's come up with some rules that'll make sure everyone gets their say, that we take it deliberately, so that when we do rename a street in Stumptown from here on out, everyone is on board with this". There was, as they say, much rejoicing.

The rules were promptly disregarded in the very next demand to rename a street. This got us NW and SW Naito Parkway (It's still NW Front Avenue after you get north past the NW 15th Avenue light, there at the Fremont Bridge, but it's just not the same somehow) as the City Council fairly embarrasingly fell all over itself in the rush to get that road renamed.

I don't doubt that, somewhere along the road to N Rosa Parks Way, someone pointed at the Naito process and said "hey, you did it for them!". And, likely, someone for N Cesar Chavez Blvd noted the previous two detours and figured if they did it for them...

Now you all know why your mom always said "If I did it for you, I'd have to do it for everyone". Fair is, after all, fair, even if it leads to regular doses of crazy.

There is a question of Portland place here. Café Unknown had it very well in his post: I should refer you there. For me in this way it boils down to assuming there is no history in a name that seems generic, which is complete pants. Interstate Avenue was stitched together of a couple of streets that became the main route to Vancouver–and the Interstate Bridge–and eventually became the route of the Pacific Highway West (US 99W, later State Hwy 99W), the precursor to Interstate 5.

Let it also be said, loud and clear, that I do not have any fear of either a black or a brown planet. That the street is now named Rosa Parks Way doesn't bother me in the least. What bothers me is that someone wanted it badly enough to inveigle someone in the city government to see it thier way and ignore rules that are actually still in the books and have never been invalidated, and they seem perfectly prepared to do so once again, casually erasing another bit of shared, Portland-specific history, without getting everyone else on board with it.

Why even bother with making up a rule if we're not going to play by it? Stop the insanity, I say. Cesar Chavez deserves recognition, but surely there are other ways than stripping the name from yet another street.

I always thought it was kind of cool that Portland had a street named after itself (There is still a N. Portland Rd, but the deriviation is suprisingly unobvious–"North Portland" was the name of the undeveloped locality on the railroad line between the north margin of Saint Johns and the North Portland Harbor (south bank of the Columbia), and the road was called North Portland Road before the Great Renaming of 1933. Presumably, it was felt that "N. North Portland Rd." sounded kind of silly).

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