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Street name has history, future

MY VIEW • Interstate Avenue doesn’t need a new identity

The mayor and Portland City Council love the process of civic participation, so many North Portland residents were surprised earlier this year when we learned that North Portland Boulevard had been renamed Rosa Parks Way. Now it appears that the mayor and council are poised to give our main thoroughfare, North Interstate Avenue, a new name: César E. Chávez Boulevard. At least this time we’ve been given fair warning. In the case of Portland Boulevard, the council voted to ignore the code and then proceeded to approve the name change to Rosa Parks Way. Clearly, the City Council has the ability to rename existing streets, but is it the most prudent thing to do in this time of overstretched budgets for education and infrastructure? There are so many exciting changes happening along Interstate Avenue. I think Interstate Avenue should remain Interstate Avenue. Here’s why: 1) Interstate Avenue has become a brand name, like the Alberta Arts District and the Mississippi Avenue areas. We’re seeing an upswing in the number of new businesses and home renovations occurring throughout the neighborhood. And while many of the area’s new residents are from the much-heralded “creative class,” pride of place also is evident in the many longtime residents as well. Look around: North Portland celebrates diversity daily. Our pride of place and racial harmony are evident in the lack of serious problems on our light-rail line and in the “live and let live” attitude in our neighborhoods. 2) North Interstate Avenue is an economic development zone. Is giving this area a new cultural identity better for encouraging redevelopment than its historic, culturally neutral name? Millions of dollars have been spent on light rail. Incentives have been paid to attract new businesses to locate here; established businesses were given incentives to spruce up and remain here. All of this occurred under the name Interstate Avenue. 3) Would the name César E. Chávez Boulevard influence the Hispanic community to settle in the relatively small geographic area of North Portland in disproportionate numbers when compared with the rest of the city? Is this part of Mayor Potter’s VisionPDX that I missed? I thought the days of segregation and institutional racism, whether intentional or accidental, were over. 4) The César E. Chávez Boulevard Committee stated that one of the reasons Interstate Avenue was selected for a name change was that it wasn’t named after a person. While this is true, I hope that we’re not forgetting that Interstate Avenue was named in honor of its history as an “Inter-state” to Washington. With the upcoming rebuilding of the Interstate 5 bridge to include light rail and an extension of the Interstate light rail corridor likely, the name Interstate seems as valid now as it ever has. I know there are many reasons why people are for or against this idea. There also are many solutions. For example, why doesn’t Portland just subtitle portions of streets like other cities? For example, Sixth Avenue/Avenue of the Americas in New York City. All I wish is that we let the mayor and City Council know our thoughts at the city-sponsored meeting occurring 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Ockley Green School and at the actual City Council hearing (date to be announced) before its vote. I urge all parties to write or call the mayor and members of City Council at 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave., Portland, OR 97204; 503-823-4000. Lee Potts lives in North Portland.