Bridges. Airports. Highways. Tunnels. We Americans have a terrible habit of naming our infrastructure (what little we have) after people. Why?
When John Roebling designed a mile-long suspension bridge to connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, there was no question what it was going to be named. A bridge should be named after the town or neighborhood it connects to - Brooklyn! But over 100 years later, when Boston had the chance to build an iconic bridge between itself and Charlestown, and simply call it the Charlestown Bridge, it walked into a political battle over whether to name it after a civil rights attorney or a Revolutionary War battlefield. And what did Boston do? They named it after both. Clarity and courage!
On the Arizona-Nevada border, there is the impressive Hoover Dam Bridge. But it was not named that. It was named after a former Nevada governor and the most famous pro-athlete turned soldier of our time. The latter name is the one most people use when they talk about the bridge.
And then there's the special, unprecedented case of New York City and New York State re-naming its bridges and tunnels. It is an incredible history that dates back decades. The latest re-naming proposal would re-name the Williamsburg Bridge after Sonny Rollins. Why not John Lurie? He's a great New Yorker. Why not fellow artist, the late Jean-Michel Basquiat? Also great. New York has too many greats to honor. But why honor them on infrastructure? Why?
What happens when a state names infrastructure after the wrong person? Well, New York holds that title as well. John F. Kennedy Airport is named after a president from Massachusetts. He had sex with Marilyn Monroe here. But JFK wasn't from here. His brother was a US Senator for New York for just two years (and he got a bridge renamed for him in 2008).
I can go further with examples of bad naming. What's the name of the airport in Liverpool? It's John Lennon, a man who was born there, but spent almost no time there after 1964. Liverpool John Lennon Airport was the first airport in the UK to be re-named after a person in 2001. The disease has spread.
Renaming Idlewild International Airport was a costly, hasty error, in my opinion. New York City gave its biggest airport the wrong name just so they could be first to rename infrastructure after JFK (just six weeks after his assassination). If any city should have renamed their airport to JFK it should have been Boston. Can you imagine an alternate universe in which the big New York airport is named after someone who actually lived or died in New York? How about Joey Ramone from Queens who sung a damn song about the very part of Queens the airport is located? Or how about David Bowie, who lived his last 22 years in New York? Or maybe even Jane Jacobs, who stood up to Robert Moses and saved SOHO? Or how about Margaret Sanger?
Yeah. Margaret Sanger International Airport. I'd get behind that. Remember kids, legal abortion brought down the crime rate. You're welcome.
But we need to stop the madness. Can we get back to naming bridges, tunnels and airports after places, please?
Places, not people. Places are where we go in our cars and planes.