Honorary Street Names

I’m really interested in informal, immersive learning experiences.

I’m particularly interested in ways we can leverage cities, and the experience of living in and moving through one to enrich ourselves. We, as human sponges, are soaking up all kinds of information from our daily experiences, whether we intend to or not. Why not design those everyday experiences to expose us to things that might stretch our minds a little bit? or help us connect a little better with the space and people around us?

 

There are many streets in New York City with honorary names, in addition to their formal names. I’m always a little disappointed when I see a name on a street sign that I don’t recognize. In this age of handheld, internet-connected computers, I can obviously quickly look up the name, but it always seems like a missed opportunity not to have information on or near the street signs about the honoree.

And even if I look the person up, I still lose contextual information. I may find out why the person was significant to the world, broadly. But I don’t know what spurred people here, in this physical place, to co-name a street after that person. And I don’t know when that happened.

And in many cases, the person had local significance more than worldwide fame. Take Abrian Gonzalez Place, in Brooklyn. It’s hard to find much in a quick Google search about Abrian. And in fact, Google originally thought that perhaps I’d misspelled the name, and so showed me results for “Adrian Gonzalez,” as well, which wasn’t helpful.

Gilbert Tauber created a database of (most of) the NYC streets with honorary names, and information we have about their namings and namesakes. You can read more about the origin of the database over at the NY Times. Tauber’s database says only, “Abrian Gonzalez (1985-2006) attended P.S. 15, as a youth. He inspired the other students to stay away from crime and drugs”

Abrian clearly had significance to people in his community. It’d be great from a memorial standpoint, to have even that little blurb at the base of the signpost of Abrian Gonzalez Place.

And having that information somewhere in the actual physical location would help target learners (you know, passers-by) situate their learning.

At its most simple level, this could be just simply posting text. But it would be great if it could grow beyond that, into something more dynamic.

How might we help people currently, physically on a given co-named street have an active, living engagement with a community choice and context that may be many years old?

I don’t have the answer to that, but here’s my first brief pass: Maybe, along with the placard, there’s a QR code, and scanning the QR code takes you to a page on a site not unlike Place Matters or City of Memories, and there’s a page specifically for that Abrian Gonzalez Place. And there, you can see pictures people have taken near there, or read a story someone has posted about Abrian and his life, or pictures of him. The page talks more in-depth about who was involved in getting the street co-named, and their motivations.

 

These are some ideas/associations that are inspiring me:

 

 

Next steps:

  • define the target problem/objective more specifically
  • do more rigorous ideation on a solution
  • get a prototype up and running and test it out in various locations

 

Potential issues:

  • as with any public collection of data, people might submit factually incorrect, misleading or irrelevant material
    • read more about public history work and how projects like those above deal with these kinds of issues
 

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