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Opinion - A surefire way not to be remembered

Note to City Council: Street signs are not chalkboards

Renaming streets to recognize Atlanta's civic leaders is arguably the most brazen display of political butt-kissing, but it usually doesn't raise anyone's eyebrows. Atlantans have grown numb to the practice, which has resulted in an embarrassing array of long street names that confuse residents and visitors alike. It's time for an intervention.

If Atlanta City Council gets its way, at least two downtown streets will soon be renamed: Harris Street would be changed to recognize John Portman, the famous architect behind downtown's atrium hotels, and Cone Street would be rechristened in honor of Xernona Clayton, a civil rights activist whose annual Trumpet Awards ceremony notes achievements by African-Americans. A commission is also mulling a street name change to honor H. J. Russell, the construction executive who helped build such landmarks as the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena. It's worth noting that all three of the proposed honorees are still living.

The name-change process poses several pesky problems — not to mention some ironies. (Why should Portman, who's often credited with stifling Atlanta's street life with his cloistered hotels and buildings linked by "gerbil chutes," be recognized with a street?) Residents along Cone Street, which would be renamed Xernona Clayton Way, will have to endure the bother of changing billing and personal information. Businesses, some of whom have forged an identity on the street where they're located, must purchase new stationary and signage. Google Maps and GPS data must be updated. The commissions tasked with determining the honorariums say they'll cover the new street markers' costs, but it's unclear whether they'll also pay for new MARTA maps, which could cost the cash-strapped transit agency as much as $100,000.

Further complicating the effort are some poor ethical decisions: Council staffers are spending time ironing out details of how best to honor well-connected and deep-pocketed civic leaders — and earn their bosses a place in those leaders' hearts come re-election time. City Councilman C.T. Martin is pushing for the renaming of Cone Street, which isn't even in his district, and wants to waive a provision of the ordinance that requires 75 percent of impacted residents to OK the change.

On Nov. 22, Neighborhood Planning Unit M, which includes downtown, Castleberry Hill and Old Fourth Ward, ruled that changing the names of streets could confuse tourists and emergency responders and be a major source of inconvenience to residents and businesses. NPU members stuck to their time-honored tradition of politely suggesting the commissions find more meaningful ways to showcase these particular accomplishments.

They're right. Clayton, Portman and Russell (and those who came before them) deserve some recognition, but this particular honor only contributes to the city's hodgepodge of streets with multiple names. It also paints over parts of Atlanta's history.

Plus, considering Council's penchant for changing street names, who's to say John Portman Avenue or Xernona Clayton Way, come 10 years, wouldn't be renamed Jermaine Dupri Street or Bernie Marcus Circle? Hell, it's happening to Reuben Cone, the former judge and an original urban pioneer. Consider options that will educate and honor everyone, not inconvenience residents and businesses — and stop the craziness.

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