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Friday, May 17, 2024
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Madison proposes updated street name program to increase representation

Historically underrepresented communities could find future representation under new street naming policy updates proposed by the Madison Common Council on Jan. 23.

The Madison Common Council proposed updates to the city’s street naming policy on Jan. 23 to recognize underrepresented figures in the city’s history. 

The proposed updates would edit two policies related to naming city streets. The first dictates how new streets are named and current street names are changed. Proposed changes would create more inclusive criteria and guidelines for name selection. 

The second regards the advancement of an honorary street naming program that aims to recognize people important to the city’s history who “have not traditionally been recognized.” There is currently only one honorary street named in Madison, Willie Lou Harris Way, declared above Bram Street. 

The proposals come after the city’s Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative found racial and social inequities in the current street naming policy. According to the initiative’s findings, Madison streets have historically been named after “elite, wealthy white men.” Many current street names appropriate cultures and new streets aren’t being named after people, which the report said was missing an opportunity to expand representation. 

District 12 Ald. Amani Latimer Burris co-sponsored the policy changes to address these issues with Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and District 14 Ald. Isadore Knox, Jr. Latimer Burris said her support for these proposals comes from a strong belief in the importance of recognizing history and encouraging public curiosity. 

“It’s not just about slapping a name up, it’s about understanding where we were and how far we’ve come,” Latimer Burris said. 

If passed, the expansion of the honorary street name program would place approved honorary street names on brown signs above current green-plated street names. Latimer Burris said the signs’ organization would not create confusion but would instead distinguish them and encourage further interest. 

“It’ll be effective,” she said. “You’ll pay more attention, you’ll look it up.” 

Program guidelines state honorary street names should have a “demonstrable connection” to the location of the street, tying passersby to the history resting below their feet. 

The cost of these changes could come out of the current budget for the preexisting policies, according to Latimer Burris. How the new programs and guidelines can be paid for will be decided as these proposals progress through different committees.

Latimer Burris said the proposals are a work in progress and encouraged public participation. Specific dates for public comment are not yet available, but the city will be looking for community input before voting on the proposals on March 5. 

“This is your city, and you have to participate,” Latimer Burris said. “It’s going to take everybody to stay on course and learn about how important things are for the future.”

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