Public Works: Naming Streets Out of Spite
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Public Works: Naming Streets Out of Spite

A municipal politician in Staten Island has named three streets after the greedy traits showed by real estate developers.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Was Gooch Avenue the product of spiteful street-naming? Boy, we sure hope so. Photo by Peter Goffin.

Is there someone in your life you really hate? Someone who has wronged you? Well, here’s a thought. Don’t get mad. Become a municipal politician, then lobby to change the name of their street to something pointed and embarrassing.

That’s what Staten Island Borough President James Oddo did, except he had the good fortune to already be a civic leader.

In February, a New York State Supreme Court judge granted Oddo the right to name streets in a new outcropping of townhomes after the nasty personal traits he noticed in the developers.

See, the Savo Brothers development company had bought up an historical Jesuit retreat and the surrounding green space to build 250 townhouses.

None-too-pleased, Oddo rejected the Savos’ banal recommendations for street names in the planned development, and opted instead for Cupidity Drive (meaning a strong desire for possessions or wealth), Fourberie Lane (meaning trickery or deception) and Avidity Place (meaning a consuming greed).

Spiteful, no? And funny. But that’s not to say we here in Toronto should go out and start naming streets to denigrate real estate barons.

Granted, that may be how we ended up with streets with (very real) names like Cocksfield Avenue, Lucifer Drive, Gooch Avenue, and Dorking Crescent.

And condo developers seem to be doing a pretty good job of coming up with laughable place names all by themselves. Enigma on the Park, we’re looking at you.

But our efforts really are better spent trying to stem the tide of destructive development, rather than petty namecalling.

Remember, the Savos may have to live with obscurely embarrassing street names on land that could make them filthy rich. But the Civil War-era architecture and centuries-old trees of the site are long gone. No revenge scheme, no matter how droll, will bring them back.

And Oddo knows it. He said as much in a statement posted to Twitter after the judge found in his favour.

“This is not a victory,” Oddo wrote. “Victory would have been the agencies allowing us to rezone the property years ago to prevent this proposed project…  This court decision is not a victory because it will not bring back the trees or the historic structures that were wantonly and spitefully destroyed.”