Volume 16 • Issue 21 | October 21 - 27, 2003

A street by another name?

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Faced with a heart-wrenching request from family members, Community Board 1 officials decided last week to postpone any decisions on renaming area streets for Sept. 11 victims until plans for the World Trade Center memorial are announced.

At a C.B. 1 executive committee meeting last Wednesday, chairperson Madelyn Wils told members that the board had received “a very sad request” from a couple who lost their only two sons in the collapse of the World Trade Center. Both men had lived in Tribeca, Wils said, and the couple wanted to rename part of Beach St. for them.

To date, about 310 victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, or more than 10 percent, have been honored with portions of New York City streets renamed for them, according to Lupe Todd, a City Council spokesperson. At last week’s meeting, C.B. 1 members discussed the delicate nature of such designations and how Lower Manhattan’s proximity to the former trade center site might influence their policy.

“With respect to the World Trade Center, more people died than streets exist in the neighborhood,” said Jeff Galloway, a board member. “You’ll end up slighting someone in your attempt to honor someone.”

The City Council must pass legislation to rename a street or portions of a street. But the local community board votes on the measure before it goes to the council, and lawmakers often uphold whatever the board decides, Todd said. To date, C.B. 1 has approved one street change for a 9/11 victim: last month, it supported a measure to rename N. Moore St. between Varick St. and W. Broadway for Lt. Vincent Halloran who worked on the block in the Ladder Co. 8 firehouse at 14 N. Moore St.

At last week’s meeting, C.B. 1 members leaned in favor of supporting Sept. 11-related street changes only when the victim, like Halloran, made a significant contribution to the neighborhood. Wils said she was uncomfortable renaming streets for people in general.

“I hate to do it from a sympathy point of view,” Wils said.

Wils said she cried when she received the request from the couple who lost two sons in the trade center disaster. But accepting all street change requests would set a precedent that could be difficult to uphold, she and others said. One member said that honorary street signs cause confusion when they show up on a car’s global positioning system. Todd, in a telephone interview, explained that the renamings become part of the city record.

The city Department of Transportation has no guidelines for the renaming of streets, said Keith Kalb, an agency spokesperson. The fee for adding a street sign is paid by the city and not by the people who made the request, Kalb said, adding that he did not know the exact amount involved. The city rarely renames a whole street, as it did in the 1940s when Sixth Ave. became Avenue of the Americas. Instead, what the city calls renamings could also be considered co-namings, where an additional name is placed under the original name in one portion of the street.

Some New York City communities have decided to approve all street name changes related to Sept. 11 victims. City Councilmember Michael McMahon, who represents the North Shore of Staten Island, said 140 out of the 270 terror attack victims from Staten Island have already been honored with a street change. The co-named sections usually end in “Way” or “Place,” McMahon said, and most often are where the victim lived.

“Every person who died on that day was a hero — everyone who went to work that day to provide for their families, or the rescue workers who raced in to save people,” McMahon said in a telephone interview.

McMahon added that the dedication ceremonies bring comfort to the friends and family of the dead.

C.B. 1 members said last week that their neighborhood’s proximity to the former World Trade Center site meant that they should consider the memorial to be built there before setting a policy for street changes. The finalists in the international memorial design competition will be announced this fall, Joanna Rose, a spokesperson for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, said on Monday.

Memorial guidelines say that the design should “recognize each individual who was a victim” of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, as well as the victims of the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. It is up to the memorial jury to interpret the manner in which the design should recognize the victims, whether it be to list the names or acknowledge them in some other way, Rose said.

Councilmember Alan Gerson, whose district includes Lower Manhattan, said that he supports the community board’s position to wait until the memorial design is announced before it sets a policy on street name changes for 9/11 victims.

Farther from ground zero, Councilmember McMahon said the decision was clear-cut to honor all street change requests for those who lost their lives in Lower Manhattan.

“Quite frankly, it’s the least we can do,” McMahon said.



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