What’s in a name, anyway?By
Immortalized in song by Simon and Garfunkel in the mid-1960s, the 59th St. Bridge will soon have a new name. As part of an effort to honor former New York politicos, the Bloomberg Administration announced yesterday that the Queensboro Bridge will be renamed for Ed Koch and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel for Hugh Carey. So now if there’s too much traffic on the RFK, you can jet down the Koch to get to Queens.
The former mayor was quick to embrace the honor that sees a 101-year-old bridge deprived of its rightful name. “It’s a workhorse bridge,” Koch said of the landmark. “And that’s what I am, I’m a workhorse. Always have been. I feel very compatible with it.”
Koch also praised former Governor Carey as well. “I’ve been trying to get something named for Governor Carey,” he said. “I think he was the best governor of the modern era and saved both the city and the state from default and from bankruptcy.
The current mayor was equally as magnanimous as the old. In a statement issued yesterday, he said that the Queesnboro Bridge, like Koch, is “icon of the city that’s been bringing people together for a long time.” It was a day for humility it seems.
Over the past few years, the state legislature has gone on a naming binge. We have the Joe DiMaggio Highway, the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, the Ed Koch Bridge, the Hugh Carey Tunnel and the Jackie Robinson Parkway. Unfortunately, as famous names are appended to iconic and familiar roads, the names lose all meaning. It’s much easier to figure out where the West Side Highway, Triborough Bridge, Queensboro Bridge, Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and Interboro Parkway are than it is to give directions to these location-less named parts of town.
For city too, these changes aren’t free. At a time when municipal dollars are stretched thin, New York is going to have to come up with money for new signs. It cost the city $4 million to rebrand the RFK Bridge, and everyone stills just calls it the Triborogh Bridge. This time, the city is going to look for private donations to cover the costs. Perhaps Mr. Koch can fund his own bridge.
While the City Council seemed enthusiastic about the new names — “Over 40 years ago, the Queensboro Bridge had Simon and Garfunkel feelin’ groovy and today there is no one in our city groovier than Ed Koch,” Christine Quinn said — not everyone shared the joy. “To glibly rename things is very sad,” Bob Singleton, a Queensboro Bridge historian, said.
But tongue-in-cheek sarcasm aside, watching the state simply give away the names to these iconic structures raises some questions. Just a few days ago, the Wall Street Journal pondered the role naming rights will play as cities look to close budget gaps. Public schools and parks may soon carry corporate names while transit systems in Philadelphia, New York and Chicago have begun to auction of the names of subway stations.
While it’s undeniable that naming rights can lead to dollars, many across the country have not been keen to embrace the intrusion of the corporate into the realm of the public. Do we sacrifice convenience and usability for the sake of money? In New York, we’re sacrificing instant name-and-place recognition for the sake of honoring historical figures, most of whom aren’t alive to appreciate the honor.
Maybe, then, naming rights aren’t the way to go without stringent guidelines. I’ve long believed that subway stations can append corporate names but shouldn’t replace geographical identifiers with place-less sponsorships. If Disney wants to buy the Times Square station’s naming rights, it shouldn’t be called Walt Disney Station; rather, it should be called Disney-Times Square. People need to know where they’re going.
But it’s too much to ask of our state legislature to keep convenience in mind. New Yorkers will still give directions to the Battery Tunnel and the Queensboro Bridge because those are the landmarks we know and that’s where the roads lead. When someone asks “How you doin’?” the answer shouldn’t be “lost trying to find my way to the Ed Koch Bridge.”