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City needs new naming process

Portland may rename an existing street once only every 20 years or so, but that’s no excuse for not having explicit criteria for how a name change should be enacted. Frankly, over time this hasn’t been much of an issue. It was more than two decades ago that the city honored Martin Luther King Jr. by renaming Union Avenue in his honor. In 1996, Front Avenue was renamed Naito Parkway to honor businessman Bill Naito. The issue arose again a few years ago when members of a North Portland ministerial alliance advocated that Portland Boulevard be renamed in honor of Rosa Parks, who became a civil rights icon after refusing to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to a white man in 1955. Portland’s City Council agreed to the renaming last year and instructed the change to occur over three years. Now a Portland Latino group is gathering support to rename North Interstate Avenue in honor of César Chávez, and Mayor Tom Potter is lending a hand to the effort. We don’t oppose granting appropriate recognition to local and national figures by occasionally renaming public facilities, such as community centers, buildings, parks, streets, bridges and pathways. But the city needs better criteria for this process than exists today. Consider all interests Name changes should carefully observe the communities of interest and businesses within affected neighborhoods. Efforts to honor historic figures such as King, Parks and Chávez should be purposeful and seek to unite Portlanders, and those efforts should build upon relationships with a neighborhood or a population base that is linked to the person to be honored. Any change should be made with sensitivity. Names like Portland Boulevard or Interstate Avenue represent an important past and present to many area residents and business operators and owners. The varied interests of these neighborhood members should be sought out, heard and considered before a new name is adopted. And to do the process complete justice, the city first should have criteria for name changes, which then would allow supporters or opponents of proposed changes to focus their comments on the criteria — and not just whether they like or dislike a particular new name. The criteria also should consider alternative ways of honoring significant people. Having such options allows city residents, businesses and the City Council the best opportunity to fully consider how to appropriately recognize someone of significance. For example, is renaming Interstate the best way to honor Chávez, a Mexican-American labor activist who had enormous impact in Oregon and the West Coast? Certainly, honor Chávez Here are two other suggestions: In 2009, the city will open a large new park near Northeast Columbia Boulevard within a neighborhood that has a significant Hispanic population. Planning for this important new park has begun and will include the selection of a name for the park. Another option to honor Chávez would be to rename all of the city’s neighborhood gardens in his honor while retaining local neighborhood identity. Here are examples of how this could work: the César Chávez-Adams Community Garden or the César Chávez-Sellwood Community Garden. Any naming — or renaming — of public places in Portland should help to better define and build a sense of community, while also serving to honor the contributions of worthy individuals. The city of Portland should have a renaming process that serves these goals better than it does today.