A street grid of the new Athlete's Village under construction in Vancouver
When you drive on the Gardiner Expressway or the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver, have you ever given any thought to what’s in a name? How is it that names get assigned to iconic bridges, roads, streets, pathways, seawalks, bikeways etc...?
In Vancouver, there is something called the Street Naming Committee (SNC). It is made up of a number of public servants who are tasked with the responsibility of naming all publicly owned structures such as bridges and roads.
In the case of older cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, there are very few new roads being constructed as most of their urban environment is already built out. On the odd occasion, an opportunity arises whereby a new community or major development comes along and the committee must assign names to public infrastructure.
My only encounter with the SNC during my tenure at the Mayor’s Office came in the form of the new Olympic Village neighbourhood being constructed on Vancouver’s waterfront. The committee had met and were considering a number of names for the new roads being built in or around the development.
When I saw the proposed street grid, I noticed the major east-west thoroughfare was being dubbed Salt Road. It prompted me to ask why the major pedestrian and vehicle thoroughfare that will play home to the world’s best athletes in 2010 was being named after a building on the site.
It didn’t take long for staff to provide me with reams of information regarding the historic Salt Building and how naming a street after it simply made sense. On paper they were right, but my gut said something different.
I had just come back from Calgary and advised staff I walked through something called the Olympic Square. It’s a beautiful open air park in the heart of downtown Calgary. It remains one of the most visible legacies of the Games, and nobody can miss the fact it was named after the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.
So why couldn’t we do something similar in the heart of the Athlete’s Village? Wouldn’t it be cool if 20 years from now the main thoroughfare in one of the city’s most trendiest neighbourhoods was named after the event which helped to get it built? At least that was the argument I made to the public service and to the Mayor. What about Olympic Way or Athletes Way? Wouldn’t those names provide for a more appropriate legacy?
A few months later a report came back to Council recommending the major thoroughfare be named Athletes Way – and it was approved. More appropriately, a minor street adjacent to the Salt Building was recommended to become Salt Street. Yet again, the public sector had found a win-win scenario.
There are many times that working as a political aide can seem daunting, thankless and simply unrewarding. However for me this victory, however small, is something I’ll share with my son for what I hope will be many of our regular strolls along beautiful Athlete’s Way in the years to come.