Where the Neighborhood Has No Name

We’ve written before on whether a child’s first name has any effect on life outcomes, and whether street names have any effect on housing prices. What if a neighborhood changes its name?

Ask the residents of South Central Los Angeles. Actually, you can’t, because technically the neighborhood no longer exists. The name “South Central” was wiped from official maps of the city five years ago to improve the reputation of an area that had become synonymous with violence and crushing poverty after the 1992 L.A. riots.

But erasing the neighborhood’s name may have had some unintended consequences, the Los Angeles Times reports. Investment seems slow to come to this neighborhood with no name, and residents of this nowhere place say they’ve lost the sense of community they used to have.

In the case of a neighborhood, could it be that having a bad name is better than no name at all?

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  1. Marci Kiser says:

    Another example: ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ in NYC was changed by developers to ‘Clinton’ a while back. This provoked an interesting backlash of traditionalists who can now say that they live in hell’s kitchen, while their transplant neighbors two doors down live in Clinton.

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  2. matt says:

    There is a similar occurrence in Toni Morrison’s novel “Song of Solomon.”

    In that novel, the neighborhood where the mostly poor and most black populace resides is built around a street the residents call Doctor Street. The street is so named because it was where the only doctor in town servicing black folk lived and worked (in the time before the white hospital admitted blacks for general treatment).

    In an effort to “improve” (re: control) the neighborhood and, ostensibly, the lives of the residents, the (all-white) town council “renames” the street “Mains Avenue.” The residents don’t take to the new name. Because they continue to call it Doctor Street, the council publishes signs and leaflets admonishing something to the effect of “This is not Doctor Street.”

    Not ready to give up their street (and the culture identity that accompanies it), they residents take to calling it “Not Doctor Street.”

    Perhaps the residents of what was once South Central ought to now call their neighborhood “Not South Central.”

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  3. Elan says:

    This is a very interesting article… Living in South Africa, I have been watching the name changes of roads, suburbs, airports and even towns, and it would be interesting to look at the economic impact of those changes.

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  4. 10803 says:

    Why not just start a PR campaign with a made-up name? It worked for Hell’s Kitchen, err, Chelsea.

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  5. 10803 says:

    Woops, I meant Clinton.

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  6. discordian says:

    Seems to me a lot of the country lives without neighborhood names just fine.

    There’s quite a few people who live in the suburbs and small cities and don’t have neighborhood names to identify with.

    Sure, there’s neighborhoods, but they aren’t “named” and a source of pride or identity.

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  7. Chris says:

    East Detroit, Mich. changed its name to Eastpointe in 1992. I’ve heard that their attempt to evoke an image of wealthy Grosse Pointe helped real estate prices at the time, although I’ve heard it is pretty abysmal now.

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  8. Mitch says:

    A few years back when my county renamed and renumbered streets to more effectively implement 911 coverage, a small lane that had never been named was christened “No Name Lane” after the residents complained their street was going to be named.

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