Street co-naming system needs an overhaul
May 17, 2011 | 7296 views | 0 0 comments | 107 107 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Who deserves to have a street co-named after them, and who doesn't? The question has become a hot topic of late, and should get new attention after a proposal was made to co-name a Forest Hills street after former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, who died in March.

The issue was raised at a recent Queens community board meeting, after complaints were made about the increase in street co-namings in recent years, especially after 9/11. The dispute comes one year after Queens CB12 rejected a proposal to co-name a street after slain police officer John Scarangella, who was killed on the job in 1981.

The vote stirred controversy because the same community board approved the co-naming of a street after police shooting victim Sean Bell. If a civilian victim of violence was honored, the argument went, why not a police officer, too?

The City Council overruled the board, and honored the fallen cop with a street sign. Afterwards, Adjoa Gzifa, the board's longtime chairwoman and an outspoken critic of the city's willy-nilly co-naming process, was removed from her post.

Her removal was a strong statement in support of the status quo. But was she all that wrong in questioning a system that is arduous, divisive and seemingly way too random?

Take Ferraro, for example. No one would argue that the first female vice presidential nominee of a major party doesn't deserve a plaque bearing her name on Austin Street. Compared to her lofty achievements, the honor is small potatoes.

But things get trickier in less open-and-shut cases.

Most co-namings are for regular people who had an extraordinary impact on their block or neighborhood, usually through a lifetime of volunteer work and community service. In theory, an objective analysis of whether or not they deserve the honor is easy, but this rarely plays out in practice.

Here's why: in many cases community boards who vote on co-naming proposals were familiar with the individuals when they were living, either personally or through friends and family, or by reading about their clubs, civic groups and charity events in the local press.

So they bring their own feelings to the table. Differences of opinion inevitably crop up, as do difference in values across a community. Some people think cops who are killed in the line of duty were just doing their jobs; others believe they paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Because these divisions can never be truly resolved, the city needs to rethink its policy towards street co-namings. We need better across-the-board criteria for judging a person nominated for such an honor, and, just maybe, a new approval process altogether.

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