Renaming Lake Shore Drive requires careful deliberation

There must be a more formalized and predictable process and criteria by which the recommendation for renaming streets is made.

SHARE Renaming Lake Shore Drive requires careful deliberation

A bronze bust of trader Jean Baptiste Point DuSable sits on Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River, the site of his historic trading post.

Sun-Times Library

We’re still contemplating whether Lake Shore Drive should be renamed in honor of the city’s first non-native settler, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable — a measure being pushed now by a group of Chicago aldermen.

But we do know this: Rather than have aldermen suggest street renaming in an ad hoc fashion as is the case with DuSable, there must be a more formalized and predictable process and criteria by which the recommendation for renaming streets is made.

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Similar to landmarks process

Just as the city has a process to landmark important buildings, it could develop a similar path to rename streets after distinguished individuals.

That means a set of requirements for eligibility would be determined, and names of those who fit the criteria would be considered for nomination.

A commission could meet yearly to deliberate on a slate of recommendations made by the public, civic groups or city officials.

Any factors against a nomination would be voiced in the commission’s public hearings and would factor into whether a recommendation is ultimately made to the City Council Zoning Committee for approval, just as is the case for proposed landmarks.

A process worthy of DuSable

Whom the city memorializes with an official street renaming and how it is done is an important adjunct to the ongoing discussion on monuments and memorials that’s been happening in the city and around the world, particularly in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd last summer.

The names and histories of Black people, women and other ethnic groups who made important contributions to Chicago’s history were too often set aside when it became time to create memorials or name schools, streets and parks.

And some memorials that were created not only excluded these histories but also were problematic themselves.

The city wisely formed an advisory committee last August to address the issues with public monuments. But this temporary committee could be made a permanent commission — as is the case with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks — with the renaming of streets, schools and parks added to its remit.

This isn’t an attempt to pass the buck on the issue of DuSable. The famed Haitian-born trader who in 1790 settled in what would later become Chicago has a bridge, a high school and a planned Chicago park named in his honor.

Given his pioneering role in foreseeing the commercial aspects of the Chicago River that others would later exploit and essentially create modern Chicago, a case can be made that DuSable deserves a prominent street named in his honor.

But renaming Chicago’s most famous and storied street is no small thing. To even consider doing so deserves a process that is also worthy of honor.

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