Honorary Streets or Real Streets?

February 7, 2013

If you listened to “The Afternoon Shift” yesterday, you know we talked about honorary streets. At last count Chicago had about 1400 of them. Dedicating an honorary street is a convenient way for politicians to keep voters happy, with little effort.

And yet . . . are there so many honorary streets that the gesture has become meaningless? I’m reminded of a friend who was thrilled to receive a flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol. Only later did he learn the secret.

(SPOILER ALERT--YOU MAY WISH TO SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!)

The Capitol has a special flagpole, on which flags are raised for a few seconds, then lowered. So each day, that results in hundreds of different flags that have been flown over the U.S. Capitol—technically.

But back to Chicago street names. Before the honorary street system caught on, the city sometimes changed actual street names. I do know at least four existing streets whose names were changed in 1979:

Bosak Avenue (10200 S. from 2434 W to 2444 W). Named for police officer William Bosak, killed in the line of duty in 1979.

Van Schaik Avenue (10400 S from 2648 W to 2718 W). Named for police officer Roger Van Schaik, killed in the line of duty in the same incident, 1979.

Stevens Avenue (4028 W-6000 N to 4000 W-6030 N). Named for George Stevens, founder of a manufacturing company on this block.

Pope John Paul II Drive (4300 S from 2400 W to 3158 W). Named for the pope who visited a parish on this street.

Then came the flap about renaming Evergreen Avenue as Algren Street, which I’ve written about. Since then the city has tried to avoid changing existing street names.

Every so often, Chicago does add new streets, and has to come up with new street names. Some years ago, there was even a new street laid out in Streeterville called—wait for it—New Street. Perhaps all the good names had already been used for honorary streets.

President Obama will probably have a real street renamed for him when he leaves office. As for the rest of us, if we want to get a real green sign instead of an honorary brown one, we’d better make friends with a developer.