City Desk

What Should We Rename Pennsylvania Avenue?

Should D.C. Rename Pennsylvania Avenue?

They've tried civil disobedience. They've tried legislative maneuvering. Now D.C.'s frustrated statehood activists are threatening to employ a new tactic: Cartographic sabotage.

D.C. Council member Michael Brown is holding a meeting this evening at the Wilson Building to ponder renaming the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue NW in front of the city government's headquarters. The idea is to pick a name that shames the powers that be by reminding visitors of the capital city's marooned political status.

This isn't the first time a government has used its thoroughfare-naming powers to tweak a rival. In the Indian city of Kolkata—long ruled by a Communist party—the road outside the American consulate had its name changed from from Harrington Street to Ho Chi Minh Sarani during the Vietnam war. Right here in D.C., Soviet diplomats during the Cold War suddenly found that their stretch of 16th Street NW had become Andrei Sakharov Place.

Vietnam won and the Soviets lost, right? Alas, Brown's renaming ambitions have at least one problem: Other than Marion Barry—whose name would presumably not be helpful in winning out-of-towners to the statehood cause—the District doesn't boast many household names among its political stalwarts. It's a pretty good bet Brown et al won't want to honor the local government veteran with the highest national Q ratings by turning the avenue into Michelle Rhee Boulevard.

Which means visitors will be puzzling over, say, Alexander Shepherd Place, Hilda Mason Trail, or Ron Brown Parkway—names that do little to insert Washington's non-democratic status into the national conversation. Instead, they'll smack of yet another lame statehood stunt.

Or worse: Out-of-town types regularly gripe about how frequently they get lost in D.C. after finding that a street's name has changed. We locals laugh about the rubes' geographic cluelessness. But when they panic after suddenly going from Pennsylvania Avenue to Mark Plotkin Boulevard, where do you think they're going to turn for help? That's right: To Congress.

Photo by Mr. T in D.C. via Flickr/Creative Commons

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  • Colonel K

    Pointless article. Time has run out of symbolic gestures and name changes.

  • Darth

    Lord North Avenue; he was the prime minister of Britain during the Revolution, when people actually paid attention to "no taxation without representation".

  • DemocracyWronged1

    The idea of renaming one street in the District of Columbia to highlight our lack of political equality is good, but more may be required to illustrate our point. Perhaps we should consider renaming a host of DC main streets with the relevant monikers. Those that encircle the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court, for instance. Let's tell it like it is.

    Please consider such names as these:

    1. Repression Road
    2. Despotic Way
    3. Tyranny Boulevard
    4. Injustice Drive
    5. Oppression Avenue
    6. Subjugation Lane
    7. Dictatorship Street
    8. Undemocratic Place
    9. Political Enslavement Crescent
    10. Authoritarian Freeway
    11. Suppression Thoroughfare
    12. Autocracy Thruway

  • Rick Mangus

    How about calling it Pennsylvania Avenue like it's always has been! This kind of childish, in your face approach is why DC will never have voting rights, stop acting like whining babies and approach this like adults, how stupid!

  • Jacob

    How about "Waste of Tax Dollars Ave"? DC is not in a financial situation to be spending its' limited time or money on meaningless gestures like this.

  • Jack

    The full expression is "taxation without representation is tyranny". Okay, call it Tyranny Avenue. That'll get people's attention.

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  • Truth Hurts

    How about "Get Paid Drive", with photos of every DC politician and lobbyist who owes the city money lining the block.

    If they ever pay those debts and stop siphoning off city bucks, then others in this country might take DC more seriously.

  • Robert

    Absolutely no to statehood. But renaming a famous street to reflect the character of the capital could be cool.... I'm thinking 'Heller Ave'.

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  • jeff

    Voteless DC Avenue

    Senators and Congresspeople Represent Their Home State's Constituents (Whom They Were Elected By), Not DC Residents, Thus DC Residents Have No Elected Vote In The Senate or House, Unless You'd Like DC Residents To Vote In Every State's Congressional Election, Which Is A Whole Lot Of Votes For The Democrats, Especially In Swing States, And Why Is A Dude From Utah Deciding DC's Political/Economic Fate?

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  • kevin BERRY