You’d think Chicago never renamed a street before.
An ordinance changing “Lake Shore Drive” to “Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable Drive” was introduced in City Council in 2019. The idea flared up again in December, sparked heated debate, and finally seems to be inching toward fruition, despite opposition from the mayor and general foot-dragging reluctance of those who hate to see anything changed.
Which includes myself. All things being equal, I’d stay with “Lake Shore Drive.” Name changes trip me up. I find myself cycling through the history of the names of Sox park—”I never want to go to Comiskey... er U.S. Cellular, I mean Guaranteed Rate Field.” Far easier to stick with one name, like “Wrigley. Field”
Which used to “Weeghman Park.””
The best argument for keeping “Lake Shore Drive” is that it’s a world famous street and Chicago doesn’t have many and should keep what few we’ve got. New York isn’t getting rid of Broadway.
That said—and here’s my superpower—I also realize it isn’t all about me, or even about global branding. I can prefer it not be done and still be okay with someone doing it. Because there are good reasons for changing the name.
And no, it isn’t about honoring DuSable.
“The name of the street isn’t about people they’re named for,” said Bill Savage, a Northwestern professor whose next book, “The City Logical” is about Chicago streets. “It’s about making people who live here now remember them.”
What the change would do is color the image of the city, both for residents and outsiders, bringing it more in line with the people who actually live here, turning from whatever emotions might be plucked by the words “Lake Shore Drive”—that song, the Beavis and Butt-head chuckle at its abbreviation. (“Heh heh heh, LSD, it’s the name!”)—to the range of feeling encapsulated by “DuSable Drive.” History has decided DuSable was a handsome, bearded man, based on the bust that I paused to admire Saturday night on a crowded, diverse Michigan Avenue.
Which used to be Pine Street. What bugs me about the debate, more than ooo-scary change, is the notion that this is all somehow new.
“It would be the second street renamed in the city of Chicago,” The Defender suggested last December. “Journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells Drive was the city’s first street renamed.”
I hate to snicker at The Defender, now a shell of a husk of an echo of its former greatness. But that’s just silly. Street names change continually throughout the history of the city. The streets were a hodgepodge, and had to be ironed out, otherwise there was utter confusion—a Michigan Street, Michigan Avenue and Michigan Boulevard. North Lincoln Avenue and North Lincoln Street intersected at Grace.
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