Do Street Names Matter?

In research with Roland Fryer, later written up in Freakonomics, we asked the question “Does the name you give your child matter for her life outcome?” (I say “her” because we could only look at girls because the way we tried to answer the problem was by linking a baby girl’s birth certificate to the birth certificate of her child when she later gave birth.) We found that names didn’t seem to matter. Black women with “distinctively black” names had nearly identical — maybe even a little better — outcomes than did Black women with more traditional names.

Sylvia and Steve Crossland, two real estate agents in Austin, Texas, have posed the same question regarding street names on their blog. Will people pay less for an identical house if it is located on Sisquoc Avenue instead of Pleasant Street? I like their approach, which involves gathering data and making some sensible comparisons. I don’t think they conclusively answer the question with their data, but it is a good start.

The very fact that very few streets have really dismal names like “Massacre Lane,” or “Poison Avenue,” or “Stench Street” does suggest that when cities were first developing the people naming the streets associated some disutility with bad street names. Since it is essentially free to choose a good name for your street when you start, there is no particular reason to saddle your street with a bad name, even if the costs of having a bad name are trivial. So that doesn’t tell us much about the magnitude.

If street names matter, but a child’s name doesn’t, why is that? I would argue that most of the important interactions people have are with people who know them well. If a person knows you well, they have better signals than your name. Your street name mostly comes up in situations where people don’t know much about it, like in a for sale listing or ordering items from a catalog. Still, although I think a street name could matter a little, my guess is the effect is very small if it exists at all.

(hat tip to achen)


prosa

On the outskirts of Las Vegas, off the access road leading to the Mount Charleston resort area, there is a small street with the best name I've ever seen:
Elvis Alive Drive.

grungeglitter

Paul Fussell, author of Class in America, describes how American developers named streets after places in Great Britain, in what he supposed was an attempt to align up and coming Americans with the classy Brits. Maybe people aspiring to wealth are aware of the status of street names? I would rather live on Buckingham Road than Cleveland Street any day.

va_white

The street names that bother me the most are in developments where the folks in charge of naming streets ran out of ideas after one or two streets. So you end up with Arroyo Grande Lane, Calle Grande Verde, Arroya Grande Circle, Arroyo Grande Avenue, Calle Arroyo Grande, Calle Arroyo Verde, etc.

You never get your own mail in places like that. It's like a snail mail lottery when the postal carrier delivers.

zbicyclist

There seem to be a lot of areas in which the street names are similar in a way almost designed to cause confusion to those unfamiliar with the area -- even when there's some demonstrable logic at work. Here's a map of rural Oxford, WI which shows Fish Ct, Fish Lane, Fish Ave, and Fish Drive (running east-west) and W 3rd Lane, 3rd Drive, 3rd Ave, 3rd Ct (running north-south).

Meet me at the corner of Fish and 3rd. ;)

Of course, there's similar clusters of confusion farther east (2nd), west (4th), north (Fern) and south (Fox).

http://www.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&q=Oxford,+WI+53952&layer=&ie=UTF8&z=14&ll=43.779027,-89.640026&spn=0.029932,0.05785&om=1

swale

The town in which I used to live in New Hampshire had a street named "Poverty Plains Road". Some residents (and the kennel in which we boarded our dogs) called it just "Plains Road".

Other roads I saw in New Hampshire included Agony Road and Dump Road.

timepiece

I guess I'm the only one here who watched the TV show Gilmore Girls ... some time ago they had a show where the charming town decided to revert all street names to their historical ones. The main character was appalled to discover her inn was going to be on Sores & Boils Lane.

Personally, I'm always amused when driving through my town, which still has streets officially named "The High Road" and "The Byway" (and yes, the signs include the "The"): http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&q=the+high+road+and+the+byway,+bronxville+ny

DannyNoonan

I went to school in Madison Wisconsin. When Wisconsin was still a territory, the territorial legislature had to choose a capitol. A former Judge named Duane Doty bought a bunch of swamp land with nothing on it. He platted the City of Madison on the swamp land and pitched it to the legislature to be the new capitol, even though it was only a city on paper. Part of what convinced the is that all of the streets were named after the 39 signers of the United States constitution (although he also bribed them all). Anyway, naming fake streets things like "Hamilton," "Franklin," "Langdon," "Gorham" and "Mifflin" was enough to convince the Wisconsin territorial legislature to establish their capital in a city that didn't even exist at the time.

Mack

In Southfield, MI is a street that used to be named just Lois Lane. The signs were continually being stolen. So they're now marked "Lois Ln Drive".

In nearby Dearborn there's a street that's testament to running out of ideas: Emanon St. (read it in reverse)

Another Detroit neighbor has a street named Northumberland. Over the years I've seen the signs replaced several times. First it became North Umberland. Next incarnation was N. Umberland. Inevitably, with the next change it became Numberland.

blaknecr

The City of Portland offers a unique example to this question. In the city's Northeast neighborhoods, two streets ironically named NE Failing and NE Going, run parallel to each other at a distance of only three blocks removed. Thus, creating a limited need to control for neighborhood specific variables such as schools, proximity to employment concentrations, and the presence of urban amenities (i.e. specialty grocer, theater, coffee shops, restaurants). Anecdotally, the two streets are subjectively similar with respect to streetscape, housing age, and overall aesthetic appeal. I briefly retrieved all housing sales on both streets over the past 12 months, yielding nearly 50 observations. While I do not have the time or desire to run a complete econometric analysis that would control for specific housing variables such as age, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, fireplaces etc., simply looking at the average sale price per-square-foot revealed that homes on NE Failing were roughly 10% undervalued. While this is not a defensible conclusion by any means, interesting it is indeed.

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dedalus

Several humorous examples come to mind for me, all of which are in my home country of the Great White North.
-One is the intersection of Clinton and Gore streets in Toronto's Little Italy, which existed long before the pair were, well, a pair.
-Another is Ragged Ass Road (http://www.raggedassroad.ca/) in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
-The final one is the street names at the University Of British Columbia. They are largely a mix of names of other Canadian university (e.g., Toronto Road, Dalhousie Road), departments or schools (Education Road, Biological Sciences Road, Applied Sciences Lane), or, as might be expected, past university presidents (e.g., Wesbrook Mall). An intriguing and odd mix, indeed.

entreelink

Just off of I-40 in Garner, NC is a new upscale area under development. When you get off at Route 70 West the first intersection is Jones Sausage Road if you go northbound into the older less advantaged section, if south, next to the new Target, Best Buy, Chili's andchored center, you are on White Oak RD. The developers obviously hold sway in Garner, and another piece of suburban differentiation goes away.

giromide

I tend the enjoy roads whose names bear some local historical context. Northern Illinois has Army Trail Rd., Shoe Factory Rd., and Pump Factory Rd.

Another favorite is Pensive Ln. in unincorporated Northbrook, IL.

mikeanon

actually there are streets with unpleasant names or connotations; they just happen to be in foreign languages are so the meaning escapes most people.

Lets take an area in Northern California. Blocks from the Stanford campus where one of the authors spent some time is Alameda De Las Pulgas. A nice spanish name, right? Actually it means "street of the fleas".

Nearby is the town of Los Gatos. A expensive neighborhood, it is named after the mountain lions that used to frequent the area and attack residents. Yes, it is the town of "The Cats".

Its a hot day, so you might want to go to the beach at Tiburon north of the Golden Gate bridge. A popular beach town, the town is named after the sharks that populate the waters.

brandie

Being a big real estate nerd, I really like the approach that the folks in the original post took in looking at this. I'm wondering what qualms Steven had with their methodology, aside from perhaps assuming too much causation based on correlation. I can think of several other factors besides the ones the original writer mentioned that could've led to their results, but this is obviously apt to happen with any small data set.

Davey

There is a road near where I live in the Sandhills of North Carolina named THE DIRT Rd.

Used to live in a townhouse in Maryland on Cinnamon Spice Lane. All the streets in the development were named after spices; Allspice Lane, Thyme Trail and so on.

I was giving my address to a store clerk one time when he told me that his wife named all the streets in the development. She had worked for the developer who built the townhomes and he had a tradition of letting his employees take turns naming his developments and their streets. She couldn't think of what to name it until she was doing the dishes one night and looked up and saw her spice rack. Cinnamon Woods it was. I was pleasant to the guy anyway.

dinobuddy

I wonder what S&S might think about this: the two countries Americans probably associate most with nationwide cultural homogeneity, Korea and Japan, do not, for the most part, use street names.

In Korea, an address is written as province, city, ward, neighborhood, apartment complex name (usually that of the building company), building number, and apartment number.

I don't discount that there may be some cache' in tonier neighborhoods, but due to the millennia-long histories of these countries, and creation of new neighborhoods for the most part done, there is almost no room for imposing creativity in one's address. One exception is that of individual commercial buildings, with names like "Prima" or such.

Here in Tucson, with homebuilders like KB and D.R. Horton at every turn, there are new streets coming around every day. One neighborhood in town has the dubious distinction of having all the streets named after Las Vegas Casinos (Stratosphere Drive, Mandalay Bay Street, etc.).

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diogenes

Like poster No. 31, I live in Portland, where all the north-south streets are numbered and the east-west streets named, which should allow a smart person to sort out if names have an effect on property value. Of course, you'd have to find a way to correct for the fact that houses on numbered streets all have eastern or western exposure, and those on named streets have northern or southern exposures. Fortunately, Portland also offers a control: in the fifth quadrant (don't ask), ALL the streets are named, both north-south and east-west. I tell you, it's a treasure trove just waiting for an eager economist.

Other random memories about streets:
* Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland was originally named Asylum Boulevard, after the private mental hospital there. Merchants on the street lobbied to get the name changed.
* Portland changed the names of streets in its German neighborhood in WWI, from ones like Kaiser and Hindenberg to ones like Franklin and Pershing.
* Local streets here include Chow Mein Lane, Easy Street, Warren Court, Rivendell Drive, Lothlorien Way.
* I once lived on Koro Avenue in Idaho Falls. It is next to Aegean and Adriatic. It turns out it was supposed to be Coral (after the sea), but the sign came in wrong, and the city didn't want to pay to fix it.
* Hot topic locally: removing "squaw" from local place names.

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kmk

My parents live on Columbine Drive in Iowa and my sister lives on Machete Trail in Texas.

Nir Levy

You interact with street names very differently than you do with personal names. Street names are associated with a route, they are communal. Personal names don't carry value beyond the word. (I do wonder if there is link with people like William II, William III, etc. and outcome v. any other name. Adding the number adds history and depth and I would say brings more value to the name itself.)

Wall Street, is a prime example of the value of a street's name. I'm not a New Yorker but my guess is that there are places that you can reach with less traffic and much less hassle for a much much cheaper price, but having the word Wall Street on a corporate address carries value because it associates that company with the previous success and establishments on the street.

Another thing to note, even if you have a very culturally rich like mine which implies my origins in Israel, I think people are more likely to judge based on the name of a street than by the name. There is no meaning behind John or Bob, but I think people assume that the name of the street will reveal the nature of the street.

Reputation has a large part to do with it, and in Atlanta where I live, roads like West Paces Ferry (a road lined with multi-million dollar homes) have established reputation. I'm sure as real-estate grew, people sold empty plots of land for tons of money just because of the name of the street (and maybe also because of its prime location).

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inactionman

The best way to test this theory would be with a good geodemographic classification system like PRiZM or Mosaic. These systems (put simply) link social class to location/zip or postcode. By listing street names against lower geodem classes you could reasonably create a list of all street names with a social class score. Companies like Claritas may have already done this.