New York streets pay tribute to all kinds of its characters and people. From entertainers (Jerry Orbach, Billie Holliday) to activists and political figures (civil rights advocate Jacob Birnbaum, the late City Councilmember James E. Davis). Even to pop culture favorites. Did you know there is a street named Beastie Boys Square? After a years-long campaign, the intersection of Ludlow and Rivington street got its new name last year.
Honorific street name reflect the culture of the neighborhood and the figures it values.
The process of co-naming a street begins with the city’s 59 local community boards. It’s called co-naming because the street retains its current name as well.
There is not one unified set of requirements for co-namings. However, the boards follow guidelines in keeping with what the City Council requires, but each can have its own criteria and application.
The two most basic requirements are: the person being honored must be dead, and they must have made significant contributions to the community.
The applicant must go through several steps to prove that the honoree was deeply connected to the community, is worthy of recognition, and is (mostly) free of controversy.
After winning support from their community boards, proposals for co-names — usually a large number of them — are lumped together and sent to the City Council in the form of an omnibus bill. (The most recent bill, passed in mid-February, contained 129 names). To become law, it needs the mayor’s signature or a two-thirds council vote if the mayor vetoes the bill.
If the application is successful the Department of Transportation takes over to actually create and post the new signs. According to its ceremonial street naming policy, the department will only create and publicly place one new sign, but residents can order additional signs as mementos.
In memorializing New Yorkers in this way, qualifications need to be carefully considered: Who are these people? Are they important to the community as a whole, or are they just important to a few people who loved them and remembered them? All these play a part in the decision.
To Co-Name a Street, Follow These Steps:
- Make sure the honoree meets the most basic requirement: the person must be dead, according to City Council guidelines.
- A community board may require a period of time to wait following the honoree’s passing, ranging from six months to three years.
- You must fill out an application detailing the person’s extraordinary contributions and connection to the neighborhood. The honoree must be significant to the community and not simply beloved by a few.
- At some point in the process, you may be required to gather a petition with signatures of support from residents and businesses near the street in question.
- The number of required signatures varies greatly: Manhattan CB12 requires 150 signatures, Brooklyn CB5 requires 100, Brooklyn CB6 requires 50, and Brooklyn CB8 requires “as many as possible,” according to the guidelines on their website.
- At least one board (Manhattan’s CB6) requires applicants to make a formal presentation to its board
Witherwax said he couldn’t think of any applications that his board rejected outright.
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