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Branded: The Economic Geographies of Streets Named in Honor of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.*

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Branded: The Economic Geographies of Streets Named in Honor of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.*

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We investigate the economic geographies of streets named for Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK Streets), which are an increasingly common means by which various community members across the United States are attempting to commemorate the slain civil rights leader. It is our intent to characterize these negatively "branded" spaces in order to challenge some of the common perceptions about them and inform current and future MLK Street naming debates. Copyright (c) 2007 Southwestern Social Science Association.
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Branded: The Economic Geographies
of Streets Named in Honor of Reverend
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
n
Matthew L. Mitchelson, University of Georgia
Derek H. Alderman, East Carolina University
E. Jeffrey Popke, East Carolina University
Objectives. We investigate the economic geographies of streets named for Reverend
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK Streets), which are an increasingly common
means by which various community members across the United States are at-
tempting to commemorate the slain civil rights leader. It is our intent to char-
acterize these negatively ‘‘branded’’ spaces in order to challenge some of the
common perceptions about them and inform current and future MLK Street
naming debates. Methods. We statistically analyze nonresidential establishments
located on streets named for King in terms of scale (as measured by annual sales and
employment) and industrial classification. To our knowledge, this is the first such
analysis conducted at the national level. Results. Establishments located on MLK
Streets do not systematically exhibit economic marginality. Establishments located
on these streets do systematically exhibit unique local functions and industrial
composition. Conclusion. In the absence of empirically-driven research, the nega-
tive stereotypes that surround MLK Streets have gone unchallenged and are pro-
liferating. The research reported here calls into question a number of these
stereotypes and should inform the public, city councils, and other local policy-
makers, who are increasingly being faced with contentious MLK Street naming
debates.
The Battle to Rename Broadway
The process of (re)naming streets for Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. has been described as a ‘‘growing landscape movement’’ (Alderman,
2006:216). During such processes, streets and other public spaces become
sites of struggle for the commemoration—or contestation—of King’s legacy.
n
Direct correspondence to Matthew Mitchelson, Department of Geography, U GA, 210
Field St., Athens, GA 30602 hmmitchel@uga.edu i. The three named authors will share all
data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. The authors thank
Katherine Jones, Rebecca Torres, Tom Crawford, Ron Mitchelson, and anonymous Social
Science Quarterly reviewers for advice and criticism. Any remaining mistakes are their own.
SOCIAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY, Volume 88, Number 1, March 2007
r2007 Southwestern Social Science Association
In the winter of 2003, the landscape movement came to Middletown. Ac-
cording to reports from Muncie, Indiana’s Star Press, ‘‘it began simply
enough [in February of 2003], with a suggestion . . . but the suggestion
sparked a controversy that included accusations of racism, heated public
meetings, federal mediation and a national spotlight on the community’s
racial divide’’ (Roysdon, 2003b:1A). The suggestion, from African-Amer-
ican sanitation worker Randall Sims, was that Muncie’s old MLK Jr.
Boulevard was ‘‘out in the boondocks,’’ and thus the city should rename
Broadway as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (quoted in Roysdon,
2003b:1A). The controversy sparked by Mr. Sims’s suggestion would be-
leaguer Muncie for years (cf. Yencer, 2003c; AP, 2004b; McBride, 2004).
From the very beginning, the proposed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
was a dividing line. On one side, street naming opponents such as Troy
Inskeep, a Muncie car dealer, voiced the opinion that changing Broadway’s
name ‘‘is not the economically right thing to do’’ (quoted in Yencer,
2003a:1A). On the other side, street naming proponents like George Sand-
ers, director of Muncie’s Citywide Church Network, voiced the opinion that
the renaming ‘‘is vital to our community economically, socially, and spir-
itually’’ (quoted in Yencer, 2003b:3A).
The debate intensified at a Muncie City Council meeting in mid-May
2003, which was reported as ‘‘another divisive debate between Broadway
business owners, the African American community and even white residents
who live on and near Broadway’’ (Yencer, 2003c:3A). At a packed City
Council meeting two weeks later, a county government employee publicly
stated that several street naming proponents were ‘‘acting like niggers’’
(quoted in Roysdon, 2003a:1A; Johnson, 2005). Also in May, the existing
King Boulevard’s street signs were defaced: King’s name was replaced with
‘‘Koon’’ (Roysdon, 2003b). At the end of the month, the street naming
controversy even factored into Muncie’s mayoral race as the Democratic
challenger, fire captain Dennis Tyler, challenged the Republican incumbent,
Dan Canan, to sign an immediate executive order to rename Broadway,
claiming ‘‘it is the moral thing to do’’ (quoted in Yencer, 2003d:1A).
In the fall of 2003, a federal mediator was dispatched to Muncie to help
resolve the street naming controversy (AP, 2003; McBride, 2003). A 20-
citizen coalition sat in closed-door meetings with mediator Anita Cochrane
for three months (Yencer, 2003e). In December 2003, the mediation team
drafted a legally binding agreement. By the agreement, ‘‘an ordinance will be
drafted and presented to Muncie City Council for renaming Broadway in
2004. If defeated, city and community mediation teams will continue to
advocate the change’’ (quoted in Yencer, 2003e:1A). But then, in August
2004, when the street naming ordinance was finally presented to the City
Council for a vote, three City Council members abstained. The resulting
3–2–3 vote did not give a majority in favor of the name change. After nearly
two years of debate, mediation, and apparent resolution, Broadway was still
Broadway (AP, 2004a).
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 121
Finally, on Tuesday, August 24, 2004, reelected mayor Dan Canan issued
an executive order to rename several blocks of Broadway as Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. Boulevard by 2007 (AP, 2004b). Incensed by the mayor’s
action and the impending name change, one white Muncie business owner
reacted by publicly announcing the closing of his appliance business of 50
years. Like many business owners on Broadway, this outspoken entrepreneur
expressed concern about the cost and inconvenience of an address change.
Although such an argument appears, at face value, to have nothing to do
with race or racism, it is often difficult to separate these claims from the
emotional memories of past racial tensions. Indeed, at the same time that the
aforementioned appliance store owner expressed concern that a new address
could confuse customers and prevent them from finding his store, he did
admit vividly remembering when one of his earlier stores had been set on fire
by rioters following King’s assassination in 1968. He was quoted as saying:
‘‘I swore then that I would not let the African American community—
or anyone else—hurt my business again’’ (McLoud, quoted in McBride,
2004:1A).
The Broader Context and Question
Although Muncie’s battle to rename Broadway for King has been par-
ticularly vociferous, it stands as just one of many examples of the conten-
tious politics surrounding attempts to commemorate the legacy of the slain
civil rights leader. King’s name has been attached to a wide range of public
buildings and spaces—schools, parks, libraries, and even the Martin Luther
King Shoreline in Oakland, California. Yet, the most common form of
commemoration has been to rename an existing street in his honor. To date,
in fact, at least 777 cities across the United States have done so. Perhaps no
historical figure in recent memory has come to hold such a dominant yet
contested place within U.S. discussions of history and memory. The com-
memoration of King through street renaming is part of a larger movement
on the part of African Americans to address the exclusion of their expe-
riences and achievements from the national historical consciousness (Rhea,
1997). MLK Streets represent important conduits for African-American
expression but, as illustrated in Muncie, not everyone agrees on the meaning
and importance of commemorating the civil rights leader. Although seem-
ingly ordinary in nature, street names are important ‘‘memorial arenas,’’
public spaces for opening up political debate about King and his legacies as
well as larger issues of race and power in America (Alderman, 2002).
Like Randall Sims, African-American leaders in many places seek to re-
name major roads, arguing that the naming of a smaller, less prominent
street represents a degrading of King’s historical importance and the legit-
imacy of all African Americans. The opposition expressed by certain business
owners in Muncie to renaming Broadway is not at all unique. Commercial
122 Social Science Quarterly
interests are consistently the most vocal opponents to having their address
changed, citing not only cost and inconvenience but also the potential
stigma of having their street identified with King and, as they perceive it, the
African-American community. In contrast to the eventual street renaming in
Muncie, public resistance has kept many communities from renaming major
thoroughfares and, consequently, King’s name is frequently attached to
relatively minor streets or portions of roads located entirely within poor and
predominately African-American areas of cities (Dailey, 2005; Yardley,
1995; Towns, 1993). This has led, in turn, to the widespread belief that all
MLK Streets are located in segregated, blighted locations, even though, as
demonstrated in Muncie, this is not always the case. In essence, streets
named for the civil rights leader have become what Schein (2003) has called
‘‘racialized landscapes,’’ places ‘‘that are particularly implicated in racist
practice and the perpetuation of (or challenge to) racist social practices.’’ As
Schein also suggests, racialized landscapes exert a normative power over
people’s perceptions and actions by making certain ideas about race and
place appear to be normal or part of the natural way of doing things.
As part of landscape communication, street names are more than simply a
means of facilitating spatial orientation and transportation (Azaryahu,
1997). They also function as symbolic texts within cities and are embedded
in larger systems of meaning and ideology that are read, interpreted, and
acted upon socially by people (Pinchevski and Torgovnik, 2002). As we
suggest in this article, street names are involved in the ‘‘branding’’ of place.
The term ‘‘brand’’ is often used to discuss the way cultural meanings and
identities are attached to places, as spaces under the influences of capitalism
are socially produced (Lefebvre, [1974] 1991) and marketed as desirable
products for consumption (Morgan and Pritchard, 1998). Place names often
play an important role in this place promotion (Zelinsky, 1989). Yet, the
notion of branding can also refer to the creation of a negative place identity
or the ‘‘othering’’ of certain landscapes, such as streets (cf. Massey and Jess,
1996). Indeed, the word brand can refer to a mark of disgrace, notoriety,
and stigma even as it refers to a marketable trademark.
Within the semiotics of street naming, King’s name has become associated
with a particular, racially coded imaginary characterized by economic dis-
advantage and urban decay. Journalist Jonathan Tilove (2003:5–6) perhaps
captured this imaginary best when he wrote: ‘‘It has become commonplace
of popular culture to identify a Martin Luther King Street as a generic
marker of black space and not incidentally, of ruin, as a sad signpost of
danger, failure, and decline.’’ As Tilove has also observed, these popularly
held ideas often lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which cities respond to
the potentially racial and negative overtones of naming a street for King by
segregating his name within the African-American community, thus further
reinforcing the material basis or reality of the stigmatization (Tilove, in-
terviewed in McDermott, 2005). Yet, as Tilove discovered in traveling to
many named streets across the country, MLK Streets are often important
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 123
centers of African-American identity and community even as they are also
sites of African-American struggle. Moreover, he found anecdotal evidence
of a social and economic vitality and diversity that cannot be easily reduced
to a single stereotype.
It is our hope in this article to document, statistically, some of the vitality
that Tilove observed and deconstruct some of the taken-for-granted eco-
nomic assumptions that surround MLK Streets naming. Despite the in-
creasing frequency of streets named for King and the locational controversies
they generate, social scientists have devoted little attention to these new
landscape features. Previous work in popular and academic circles has il-
luminated the complex political, cultural, and symbolic dimensions of MLK
Streets naming, but we know far less about the specific economic character
of these named streets (Tilove, 2003; Williams, 2003; Alderman, 2000,
2002, 2003; Stump, 1988). In this article, then, we present the first national,
systematic analysis of the economic geographies of MLK Streets, using sev-
eral geo databases to identify and analyze the frequency and type of non-
residential development found along MLK Streets at different scales and
relative to other popularly named streets. We use the word ‘‘geographies’’
rather than ‘‘geography’’ to recognize the plurality of experiences found
along these streets. There is no one, monolithic ‘‘MLK Street’’; rather, there
are 777 individual streets.
Several major questions emerge in light of the potent stereotypes that
surround MLK Streets and the opposition that affected businesses often pose
to street naming: What is the likelihood of finding nonresidential estab-
lishments located on MLK Streets? What types of institutions have an ad-
dress identified with the civil rights leader? Are there significant patterns in
the type and scale of businesses on streets honoring King? How does the
relative economic prominence of MLK Streets compare to other popularly
named streets in the country? How does the nonresidential composition of
MLK Streets compare to the nonresidential structure of their respective
cities? Answering these questions will not only advance an intellectual desire
to understand the nature of MLK Streets but also provide potentially useful
information to communities as they debate the street naming process—
helping activists, local elected officials, policymakers, and ordinary citizens
to think about these streets beyond simple stereotypical constructions. Be-
fore moving on to present our article’s empirical results, it is necessary to
discuss, in more detail, the process by which MLK Streets have become
racialized and negatively branded.
The Racialized Landscapes of MLK Streets
Prior work on MLK Streets contributes to a growing body of literature
concerning various street naming processes in other spatial and historical
contexts (Azaryahu, 1986, 1997; Azaryahu and Kook, 2002; De Bres, 1990;
124 Social Science Quarterly
Light, 2004; Pinchevski and Torgovnik, 2002; Pred, 1990; Yeoh, 1992).
Such work highlights the purposeful, politicized scripting involved in nam-
ing streets (i.e., public spaces), which necessarily engages any number of
interconnected political, cultural, or economic forces. In the specific context
of naming streets for King, what stands out is the way many of the namings
are enmeshed in a complicated racial politics. Often, this stems from the
complexities of King’s historical legacy, and his iconic status as leader of the
civil rights movement.
Given the important racial symbolism that is attached to King’s name, it
is perhaps not surprising that MLK Streets are frequently located within
predominantly African-American neighborhoods, and are often associated
with the ‘‘African-American part of town’’ in popular consciousness (Al-
derman, 2000). Take, for example, a recent article from the Raleigh News
and Observer, which describes MLK Streets as ‘‘a designator.’’
If you’re new to the area and want to find the African American com-
munity, says Lamont Griffis, owner of a barbershop that faces Martin
Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Raleigh, all you have to do is ask: Where’s the
Martin Luther King Jr. street?(Lee, 2004:1A)
Jonathan Tilove suggests something similar, noting that many African
Americans live their lives ‘‘from one MLK Streets to the next.’’
When Dock Jackson—who played a role in naming the MLK [Street] in his
hometown of Bastrop, Texas, where he is on the council, and in nearby
Elgin, where he is the park director—arrived at Oklahoma City on business
and needing a haircut, he simply headed to Martin Luther King [street] and
found Robert Gates’s barbershop. When barber Gates travels to a new
place, he does the same. ‘‘When I don’t know where I’m going, I’ll find
MLK.’’(Tilove, 2003:8)
MLK Streets naming controversies often hinge upon the nature of the
street with relation to a variety of racialized residential and economic ge-
ographies. Each municipality varies in the degree and the format of these
racialized spaces. Some MLK Streets controversies stem from the proposed
street’s size and length, or its prominence within a city’s socioeconomic
hierarchy of roads (Alderman, 2003). However, Alderman (2000) also cites
the potential of streets to connect disparate and disconnected social groups,
which are persistently segregated along racialized lines in the United States
(cf. Massey and Denton, 1993; Hoelscher, 2003; Holloway, 2000), as a
frequent cause of controversy. If we think about the potential spatial formats
that MLK Streets might be part of in a more or less segregated environment,
three hypothetical possibilities arise (Figure 1). As an essentially linear place,
MLK Streets are capable of connecting, being contained by, or dividing
neighborhoods and other places within a city. Though these relationships
are explicitly spatial and fundamentally geometric, the existing spatial
manifestations of race and racism also result in the negotiation of symbolic
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 125
FIGURE 1
MLK Streets Potential Relationships to Racialized Residential Spaces
126 Social Science Quarterly
and social relationships as the MLK Streets label is ‘‘placed’’ upon these
landscapes.
The Economic Branding of MLK Streets
In many of the debates surrounding MLK commemoration, the politics of
race are intertwined with a powerful economic symbolism that generates
potent stereotypes (cf. Wacquant, 1997). MLK Streets, in other words, have
resonated in popular imagination not only as African-American vernacular
spaces, but also as spaces of crime, ruin, and desolation (Tilove, 2003). An
oft-cited comedy routine by Chris Rock, for example, suggests that anyone
lost on any MLK Streets should do one thing: ‘‘Run!’’ (Alderman, 2000;
Tilove, 2003). In similar fashion, the National Center for Public Policy Re-
search argues that ‘‘all across African American America, there are Martin
Luther MLK Streets, avenues, drives and boulevards and each has one major
thing in common . . . they all lead to the most crime-ridden parts of town’’
(Wilson, 1998). In city after city, newspaper accounts highlight similar prob-
lems. For example, ‘‘[Martin Luther King Jr. Drive] and its residents have
trouble shedding a seedier image, one of drugs and prostitution’’ in Green-
sboro, North Carolina (Schlosser, 2004:A1). In St. Louis, Missouri, ‘‘the
boarded windows and crumbling sidewalks turned Martin Luther King Drive
into an ugly, jagged scar through the city’s midsection’’ (Moore and Smith,
2004:B1).
All this has a significant impact on the ways economic issues feature into
debates about MLK Streets. From one perspective, renaming a street will
entail some measure of cost for residents and business owners, who must
deal with the mundane but important practicalities of a new street address
on their stationery, billing forms, business cards, and advertising. Indeed,
this cost is frequently cited by business owners as a reason for opposing an
MLK Street renaming. In Jacksonville, North Carolina, for example, we
hear ‘‘it would be a major cost, we have sales receipts and invoices to last
four or five years . . . we would have to reprint everything’’ (NeNittis, 2004).
In Dunedin, Florida ‘‘[business owners] cited the economic impact that
changing the street name would have on their businesses’’ (Scott, 2003).
According to an MLK Street name opponent in Covington, Ohio’s con-
troversy:
I don’t care if they were going to name it after Billy Graham or the pope.
That’s a big expense. You’re going to have all your documents changed; all
the businesses are going to have their letterheads changed. And what’s it
going to [cost] to change those big signs up there on I-75? (Rutledge, 2004)
Although these costs undoubtedly exist, we wish to argue that there is also
a more symbolic economic narrative in play in discussions about MLK
Streets, arising from the kinds of characteristics ascribed to them as
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 127
‘‘African-American spaces.’’ The street name itself, in other words, carries a
particular kind of economic value or signification.
This kind of symbolic value has been discussed by other researchers (Fernie
et al., 1997), who suggest that certain streets become ‘‘branded’’ because of
their name. For example, in the United States, Wall Street in New York City
and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills are symbols of economic prestige. In Lon-
don’s Mayfair District, there is a seemingly inexplicable high concentration of
designer retail fashion shops on Bond Street. In instances like these, the street
name is analogous to an en vogue corporate brand name. The authors explain:
A Bond Street address carries a cachet not enjoyed by neighboring streets . . .
it cannot be said that there is anything peculiar about Bond Street. It’s not the
main street nor is it pedestrianized. It doesn’t have any particular attractions
along its length and it isn’t close to the main tourist attractions in London.
Yet, for some reason, it is seen as a key ‘‘branded’’ street to international
fashion houses. (Fernie et al., quoted inWrigley and Lowe, 2002:195)
In the case of MLK Streets, however, it would appear that the brand, far
from being en vogue, carries instead a negative imaginary, one enmeshed in
the complex politics of race. As an unnamed MLK Streets naming propo-
nent argued all too well, ‘‘when it’s white against African American, you’re
talking about property values’’ (quoted in Corcoran, 2003). This certainly
appears to have been the case in Zephyrhills, Florida, where ‘‘a business
owner told local newspapers that property values would fall, saying streets
named after Dr. King were a guarantee of economic blight’’ (Goodnough,
2004:A1). Similarly, Alderman (2000:673) has documented the MLK
Streets controversy of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in which a real estate de-
veloper stated that renaming Ninth Street as M.L. King Jr. Boulevard would
hinder his ability to lease office space, because the MLK Streets label ‘‘im-
plies some overtones that, perhaps, are not acceptable in the fashion West
Ninth Street is now being developed.’’ In other words, there appears to be a
stubborn, racialized economic ‘‘branding’’ of MLK streets, resulting in the
common perception that ‘‘virtually every Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
in America is a street of abandoned buildings, abandoned businesses, aban-
doned people, abandoned dreams’’ (Danky, quoted in Carson, 2003:408).
Is this ‘‘brand’’ an empirical reality? In the work reported in the following
pages, we investigate the economic geographies of streets named for Martin
Luther King, Jr., attempting to characterize these branded spaces, to de-
construct some of the mythology that attends them, and, in so doing, to
inform current and future MLK Streets debates.
Data and Methods
To investigate the economic geographies of MLK Streets, we used Info-
USA’s (2003) American Business Disc (ABD), which contains information
128 Social Science Quarterly
on approximately 12.5 million nonresidential establishments, including both
businesses and noncommercial establishments (i.e., establishments that per-
form no sales function, such as churches and schools). We extracted data for
all establishments in the United States found to have an MLK Streets address
(e.g., MLK Boulevard, Martin Luther King Avenue, or MLK King Drive),
including geographic identifiers, industrial classifications, and operational-
scale characteristics (e.g., sales levels and employment size categories). Table 1
provides an explanation of these ordinal variables.
To asses the economic vitality of MLK Streets, we drew comparisons with
both streets named for John F. Kennedy (JFK Streets) and Main Streets. We
follow other researchers (Stump, 1988; Alderman, 2000) in choosing JFK
Streets because President Kennedy rose to prominence at roughly the same
time as King, and like King became an iconic figure after his assassination.
Kennedy also provides an interesting comparison because of the persistence
of ‘‘race’’ as a central issue in many MLK Streets controversies (Alderman,
2000, 2003). If ‘‘whiteness’’ (Kobayashi and Peake, 2000) is privileged in
the context of street naming (i.e., spatial production), then we would expect
JFK Streets to occupy relatively privileged positions within their respective
host economies.
Main Street provides a useful comparison because it is both frequent and
relatively ‘‘neutral,’’ in the sense that its naming is not the result of a
commemoration. The ABD contains 515,478 establishments with a Main
Street address. Because the ABD limits extractions to 50 establishments per
query, we employed a random, 17 percent sample of establishments on
Main Street, by choosing every sixth establishment from an alphabetically
sorted list. In several instances, national frequencies were available from the
ABD and in those cases comparisons between establishments on MLK
Streets and all establishments in the United States (i.e., the approximately
12.5 million establishments on every street contained in the ABD) were
made.
At a second scale of analysis, we wished to examine the relative economic
vitality of MLK Streets in the contexts of their hometowns. For each Census-
defined place containing MLK Streets, we collected information about all
establishments located in the place, thus allowing for place-level comparisons.
TABLE 1
Classification Scheme for Selected Establishment Characteristics
Annual Sales Employment
Low o$500,000 1o5 employees
Medium low $500,000o$1 million 5o10 employees
Medium high $1 milliono$5 million 10o50 employees
High $5 million or more 50 employees or more
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 129
Place-level characteristics were gathered from a number of different sources,
such as American FactFinder at the U.S. Census website, and Geolytics’s
(2001) CensusCD. After reconciliation of an assortment of place name
discrepancies, and some aggregation (e.g., Brooklyn was aggregated into
New York City), the place-level database contained 535 unique places where
MLK Streets establishments could be observed. Note that this place-level
aggregation was not performed for establishments located on JFK Streets or
Main Streets. Hence, comparisons between MLK, JFK, and Main Streets
will be confined to the national scale.
Prior research (Stump, 1988; Alderman, 2000) suggests that many MLK
Streets are exclusively residential in nature (meaning that these streets would
not show up in the ABD). Therefore, our final task in the data-collection
process was to acquire information on those MLK Streets that possess no
businesses. To this end, the authors consulted a second data source: ArcGIS
StreetMap USA (Environmental Systems Research Institute, 2001), which
houses shapefiles of U.S. roadways originally developed by Geographic Data
Technology, Inc. Adding these residential MLK Streets to MLK Streets
observed in the ABD results in a total of 777 places with observable MLK
Streets. This number should be regarded as a minimum estimate because a
few errors of omission are undoubtedly present.
Results
The Distribution of MLK Streets
The basic spatial distribution of the 777 MLK Streets in the United States
is revealed in Figure 2. (Please note that there are no MLK Streets in either
Alaska or Hawaii.) Most of these streets (85 percent of the total) are found
in the South. Georgia alone is home to 117 MLK Streets. This region’s
concentration (and Georgia’s in particular) are unsurprising given Dr.
King’s strong ties to the region and the state’s, and the region’s, unique
racial history. These southern MLK Streets are an important part of re-
negotiated commemoration in the South (Alderman, 2000). Of the 242
exclusively residential MLK Streets, 203 (84 percent) are found in the
South. So, while the number of southern MLK Streets is quite large, the mix
of residential/commercial MLK Streets is regionally invariant.
Alderman suggests that ‘‘if street naming is a movement led by African
Americans, we might expect to see a relationship between the frequency of
MLK Streets and the relative size of a city’s African American population’’
(2000:677). That same article reported that, indeed, MLK Streets naming
was most common in places with relatively large African-American popu-
lations. Replicating Alderman’s inquiry, Figure 2 exhibits the strong spatial
correlation between relatively large African-American population concen-
trations at the county level and places with MLK Streets. Our current
130 Social Science Quarterly
project finds that more than half of African-American U.S. citizens reside in
places with an MLK Street. Of course, this correlation reinforces Alderman’s
notion that African-American communities generally lead the naming
movement to commemorate King. This correlation also goes a long way
toward explaining the high density of MLK Streets in the South.
In general, those states without MLK Streets have relatively small African-
American populations (e.g., Montana, Idaho, Vermont, and Maine). Con-
versely, states with relatively large African-American populations have rela-
tively large numbers of MLK Streets (e.g., Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and
Florida). Across the United States, the association between the number of
MLK Streets and the percent of the total population categorized as ‘‘Black or
African American’’ by the 2000 Census is both strong and positive; the
correlation coefficient for these two variables is 0.695. As a predictor then,
states’ (percent) African-American population accounts for 48.3 percent of
the variation exhibited in states’ number of MLK Streets, which is signif-
icant (R
2
50.483 and po0.000).
The Number of MLK Establishments
Analysis revealed 10,933 establishments distributed among 535 commer-
cial MLK Streets. At least by the measures examined in this study, the
FIGURE 2
The Distribution of MLK Streets and African-American Residents
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 131
economic prominence of these commercial MLK Streets varies greatly. For
example, as Figure 3 demonstrates, there is considerable variation in the
absolute number of establishments found on MLK Streets. In the South,
where MLK Streets are most frequently located (i.e., 85 percent of the total),
this variation is particularly noteworthy. Considering only MLK Streets with
at least one establishment, the coefficient of variation for the number of
establishments in the South (272.5 percent) is nearly double that same
measure for the rest of the country (152.9 percent).
In absolute terms, there are some really large southern MLK Streets and
there are some really tiny ones as well. These streets range from Tupelo’s
(MS) MLK Circle, which is less than one-tenth of one mile in length and
has no commercial establishments, to Tampa’s (FL) MLK Boulevard, which
is the nation’s longest at 14 miles and home to well over 500 commercial
establishments. By this measure then, the MLK naming process in the South
provides a much wider range of outcomes than is the case in the remainder
of the country. In addition, there is no significant relationship between city
size and MLK Streets size in the South. For example, we can find the eighth
largest MLK Street in the country in the 1,627th largest city, that is, New
Bern, North Carolina. By contrast, outside the South, city size generally
dictates the size of MLK Streets. This may simply reflect greater variation in
racialized urban spaces of the South, where some municipalities are coping
with institutionalized civil rights and commemoration better than others
within the context of local history, culture, and agency.
FIGURE 3
Variation in the Number of Establishments on MLK Streets
132 Social Science Quarterly
Figure 4 illustrates the relative importance of each place’s MLK Streets.
The absolute number of establishments is not the only means by which to
quantify a street’s prominence. In the vast majority of cases (91.4 percent),
establishments located on MLK Streets represent a small portion (less than 5
percent) of all establishments in their respective host cities (see Figure 4).
However, establishments on MLK Streets in nearly 50 places account for
more than 5 percent of their host city’s total establishments. Again, the
South is widely variant in this particular measure of the outcomes of the
MLK naming process. By this relative measure of prominence, places found
throughout the Mississippi Delta have many of the most prominent MLK
Streets. For example, MLK Drive in Grand Coteau (LA) is home to 25 of
that town’s 66 business establishments (i.e., 38 percent). Note that outside
the South, MLK Streets are not as relatively prominent within their host
communities. In fact, only three cities’ MLK Streets account for more than 5
percent of that city’s total establishments. These are Lynwood (CA), Las
Cruces (NM), and Oak Lawn (IL).
The Scale of MLK Business
We now turn to our fundamental empirical question: Are the nation’s
MLK Streets economically marginalized places? As indicated earlier, given
FIGURE 4
The Relative Prominence of MLK Streets (Number of Establishments)
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 133
popular conceptions, we expect to find a negative correlation between the
MLK label and the level of economic development. To answer this question
we will consider annual sales and employment as proxies for the amount of
business that an establishment conducts. Hence, this section is designed to
address the differences and similarities found in two business attributes (i.e.,
annual sales and employment). We analyze these variables at two spatial
scales (i.e., the United States and at the place level). Ultimately, this section
statistically analyzes economic attributes of establishments located on MLK
Streets and, in so doing, responds to the stereotype that MLK Streets are less
economically vital than those found in other types of urban places.
We begin by examining size characteristics of MLK Streets establishments
across the nation. Here, size is taken as a measure of economic vitality. Table
2 displays a summary of chi-square tests used to identify differences in
annual sales and employment frequencies between establishments on MLK
Streets and establishments on JFK Streets, Main Streets, and the total
United States. Note the relative uniformity of both frequency distributions
in all cases. MLK Streets are actually scaled much like other selected cat-
egories of space. Focus is placed on the low-sales category as a reflection of
marginality. There is no statistically significant difference between the per-
centage of low-sales establishments on MLK Streets (50.3 percent) and the
percentage of low-sales establishments in the total United States (50.9 per-
cent) or on JFK Streets (50.2 percent). Further, relative to MLK Streets,
there is a statistically significant overconcentration of low-sales establish-
ments on Main Streets (57.5 percent), which suggests that at the national
level, Main Streets—not MLK Streets—might be the most economically
TABLE 2
Comparative Analysis of Economic Indicators Between Establishments Located
on MLK Streets and Three Other Places
MLK Street JFK Street Main Street United States
Freq. Percent Freq. Percent Freq. Percent Freq. Percent
Annual Sales
Low 4,273 50.3 4,260 50.2 40,917 57.5
nnn
5,662,601 50.9
Medium low 2,080 24.5 1,936 22.8
n
14,235 20.0
nnn
2,522,057 22.7
nnn
Medium high 1,682 19.8 1,695 20.0 12,939 18.2
nnn
2,268,740 20.4
High 461 5.4 591 7.0
nnn
3,120 4.4
nnn
668,203 6.0
n
Employment
Low 6,522 61.2 5,767 61.9 54,380 65.2
nnn
7,935,492 63.5
nnn
Medium low 1,955 18.3 1,660 17.8 15,342 18.4 2,245,821 18.0
Medium high 1,713 16.1 1,463 15.7 11,680 14.0
nnn
1,855,941 14.8
nnn
High 469 4.4 432 4.6 1,976 2.4
nnn
465,680 3.7
nnn
n
Chi-square statistic (direct comparison to MLK Street) significant at 0.05 level.
nnn
Chi-square statistic (direct comparison to MLK Street) significant at 0.001 level.
134 Social Science Quarterly
marginalized places studied here. At the other end of the sales spectrum,
when compared to JFK Streets and the total United States, establishments
on MLK Streets do appear to hit a numerically small, but statistically sig-
nificant, ‘‘ceiling’’ in terms of annual sales. Compared to establishments on
MLK Streets, the percentage of high-sales establishments is 1.6 percent
greater on JFK Streets and 0.6 percent greater across the total United States.
When compared to establishments on JFK and Main Streets and the total
United States, establishments on MLK Streets exhibit relatively high em-
ployment. For example, of the four streetscapes examined, MLK Streets
exhibit the lowest concentration of low-employment establishments, and
the differences between low-employment establishments on MLK Streets
and compared to both Main Streets and the total United States are sig-
nificant. Further, MLK Streets exhibit the highest concentration of medium-
high, and the second highest concentration of high-employment establish-
ments of the comparison groups. Again, the differences between medium-
high and high-employment establishments on MLK Streets compared to
Main Streets and the total United States are significant. Interestingly, despite
the apparent annual sales ‘‘ceiling’’ on MLK Streets when compared to JFK
Streets establishments mentioned above, there are no statistically significant
differences in employment among establishments on these two streets. With
no equivalent ceiling on employment levels, the constrained nature of sales
could indicate that the productivity of MLK establishments is more limited
than is the case in other analytic categories.
Looking at the previously reported national results is useful in that it
addresses existing generalizations about MLK Streets that have appeared in
national publications and broadcasts. The aggregate comparisons made here
suggest that MLK Streets are not marginalized and that the correlation
between the MLK label and the level of economic development of these
streets is not negative. However, our analysis of MLK Streets also requires
attention to specific places. Therefore, we created place-level measures to
consider the relative prominence of MLK Streets when compared to the
remainder of their respective hometowns. For example, one measure of
relative economic concentration could be calculated by taking the percentage
of low-sales establishments found on MLK Streets and dividing that by the
percentage of low-sales establishments found in the rest of that host city.
There are three possible benchmark outcomes for this measure. First, the
percentage of low-sales establishments on this hypothetical MLK Street
might be overrepresented, resulting in a concentration value that is greater
than one. Second, the percentage of low-sales establishments on this MLK
Street might be underrepresented, resulting in a concentration value that is
less than one. Third, the percentage of low-sales establishments on this MLK
Street might be roughly proportional to that found in the remainder of the
city, resulting in a concentration value that is very close to one.
Like a location quotient, this relative concentration statistic is extremely
sensitive to scale. For example, the MLK Street in Hickory, Mississippi, has
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 135
only one establishment. Thus, the percentage of any attribute on Hickory’s
MLK Street will either be 0 (0 percent) or 1 (100 percent). To mitigate this
volatility without prohibitively decreasing the sample size, only MLK Streets
with at least 10 establishments were selected for this place-level analysis. Of
the 535 commercial MLK Streets found in the United States, 173 have at
least 10 establishments, with 124 of these located in the South and 49 in the
remainder of the country. A ttest was used to compare MLK Streets es-
tablishments and other establishments in their hometowns (Table 3).
If MLK Streets are economically marginalized within their respective host
cities, then the establishments located on MLK Streets should exhibit an
overrepresentation of low-sales and low-employment coupled with an un-
derrepresentation of higher-sales and higher-employment categories. After
observing the resulting statistics, as shown in Table 3, there is in fact a
statistically significant overrepresentation of low-sales establishments on
MLK Streets relative to their hometowns. However, this overrepresentation
is relatively small. On average, the relative concentration of low-sales es-
tablishments on MLK Streets was only 6.7 percent higher than the rest of
the city. All other differences in annual sales between establishments on
MLK Streets and the rest of the hometown are statistically insignificant and,
furthermore, all other 95 percent confidence intervals include zero difference
in low-sale concentration (i.e., proportional representation).
Similarly, if an MLK Street is economically disadvantaged, relative to
other areas in its hometown, then establishments located on MLK Streets
should exhibit an overrepresentation of low-employment establishments and
an underrepresentation of establishments in the three higher employment
categories. However, this is not the case. Though it is true that MLK Streets
exhibit a slight underrepresentation of establishments in both the low and
medium-low employment categories, neither tstatistic is significant. MLK
Streets’ relative concentration of establishments in the medium-high em-
ployment category, on the other hand, is larger than the rest of the home-
town, and is statistically significant (po0.05). Certainly, there is no hint of
systematic marginalization in any of the results thus far. In fact, MLK Streets
exhibit the greatest mean difference in their overrepresentation of the high-
employment category. On average, the relative concentration of MLK
Streets establishments in the high-employment category is 17.4 percent
larger than the rest of the hometown. This overrepresentation of large es-
tablishments is consistent with results found when comparing establish-
ments located on MLK Streets to establishments located on JFK Streets,
Main Streets, and the total United States. Hence, we conclude that MLK
Streets frequently host relatively large establishments that, on average, are
not marginal in terms of either employment or sales.
The basic comparisons of places found across the country reported above
do obscure a fundamental geography. There is significant regional variation
in the test results. At least two features of this regional variation are worthy
of mention. First, there are substantial regional differences in the relative
136 Social Science Quarterly
concentrations of the low-sales category. Outside the South, there is no
statistically significant overrepresentation of low-sales establishments on
MLK Streets relative to their hometowns. It is as if these MLK Streets were
randomly selected from the population of all streetscapes in the non-South.
TABLE 3
T
Test Results for the Relative Concentrations of Economic Variables Exhibited by
Establishments Located on MLK Street,
Compared to the Rest of that Place’s Establishments
Mean
Difference SD t
95% Confidence
Interval
Lower Upper
Annual Sales
Low
All MLK Streets 0.07
n
0.42 2.13 0.00 0.13
South 0.11
nn
0.42 2.93 0.04 0.18
Non-South 0.04 0.40 0.70 0.15 0.07
Medium low
All MLK Streets 0.02 0.64 0.37 0.11 0.08
South 0.08 0.57 1.62 0.18 0.02
Non-South 0.15 0.79 1.30 0.08 0.37
Medium high
All MLK Streets 0.04 0.62 0.80 0.13 0.06
South 0.03 0.64 0.46 0.14 0.09
Non-South 0.06 0.55 0.82 0.22 0.09
High
All MLK Streets 0.09 1.12 1.09 0.26 0.08
South 0.22
n
0.97 2.53 0.39 0.05
Non-South 0.23 1.39 1.16 0.17 0.63
Employment
Low
All MLK Streets 0.02 0.23 0.89 0.05 0.02
South 0.02 0.23 1.07 0.06 0.02
Non-South 0.00 0.22 0.06 0.06 0.06
Medium low
All MLK Streets 0.05 0.51 1.19 0.12 0.03
South 0.05 0.54 0.93 0.14 0.05
Non-South 0.05 0.41 0.81 0.17 0.07
Medium high
All MLK Streets 0.12
n
0.70 2.29 0.02 0.23
South 0.19
n
0.72 2.91 0.06 0.32
Non-South 0.05 0.60 0.56 0.22 0.12
High
All MLK Streets 0.17 1.36 1.68 0.03 0.38
South 0.08 1.28 0.71 0.15 0.31
Non-South 0.41 1.53 1.86 0.03 0.85
nn
po0.01;
n
po0.05.
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 137
In the South, however, there is a statistically significant overrepresentation of
low-sales establishments found on average MLK Streets. On average, South-
ern MLK Streets host 11 percent more low-sales establishments than do
their hometowns. Second, high-sales establishments in the South appear to
be both substantially and significantly underrepresented on MLK Streets,
whereas MLK Streets found in the rest of the country exhibit an extremely
large overrepresentation of high annual sales establishments (41 percent)
when compared to their respective hosts. So, to the extent that MLK Streets
can be said to be economically disadvantaged, this would appear to be
limited. If the economic marginalization of this form of commemoration
(i.e., streets named for King) is taking place in the United States, it seems to
be limited to the U.S. South. The expected negative correlation between the
MLK label and the level of development on MLK Streets can be found in
the American South. There certainly are exceptions to this rule, however
(e.g., Tampa and Atlanta). Unequally developed, racialized spaces are a
hallmark of historic southern economic development and this appears to be
an outcome of contemporary development processes as well.
The Business Composition of MLK Streets
To this point, we have focused our attention on the scale of MLK Streets’
‘‘business economy.’’ However, the mission of these MLK establishments
varies considerably. Not all establishments perform a sales function and the
social and cultural value of ‘‘economic’’ activity on MLK Streets extends
beyond the simple volume of business transactions. In this section, we ex-
amine the compositional character of MLK Streets economies by focusing
on the kinds of businesses found on those streets. Specifically, we use a
number of techniques to test the general hypothesis that MLK Streets have a
significantly different business composition than JFK and Main Streets, the
total United States, and the remainder of their hometowns. Once again, this
hypothesis is based, in part, on the common negative economic stereotypes
applied to MLK Streets. Given that MLK Streets generally do at least as
much business volume as other places (with the exception of sales in the
South), that is, similar scales, then perhaps it is the nature of the economic
activity that contributes to MLK Streets’ negative image. As we will see,
there are in fact a number of significant differences between MLK Streets
and the selected comparison groups. These economic differences indicate
that MLK Streets do in fact constitute a unique economic geography, al-
though not necessarily one characterized by disadvantage or marginality.
There are 40 Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) categories (InfoUSA
was still employing SIC codes instead of the NAICS in their 2003 business
inventory) that occur within at least 30 establishments on American MLK
Streets. This ‘‘basket’’ of business types includes establishments that range
from the health services available in any one of 19 hospitals located on MLK
138 Social Science Quarterly
Streets to environmental establishments such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Services building on Dr. Martin Luther King Place in Louisville, Kentucky.
This ‘‘basket’’ of the most frequently occurring business types to be found
on MLK Streets is significant because it highlights the functional diversity of
the nation’s MLK Streets, a diversity that is frequently omitted from popular
commentary and criticism. This diversity also suggests, as did the lack of
scalar differences, that these commemorative spaces have not been relegated
to as marginalized a position as is commonly thought.
Considering only those business types (SIC codes) with an MLK fre-
quency of at least 30, Table 4 displays the most over- and underrepresented
establishment types located on MLK Streets. Compared to the United States
in general, we observe a general overrepresentation of consumer services
(e.g., barbers, retail grocery, and beauty salons) and an underrepresentation
of producer services (e.g., insurance, real estate, and accountants) on Amer-
ican MLK Streets. At least some of these establishment types carry common
social stigmas that are consistent with the negative branding of MLK Streets.
In addition, consider the social stigmas that are likely attached to the fol-
lowing overrepresented establishment types: bail bonding, retail liquor, and
TABLE 4
Representation of Selected Establishments on MLK Street
Establishment Type
Frequency
(MLK)
%
(MLK)
Location Quotient
(MLK and Total U.S.)
Government offices 590 5.40 5.74
Funeral directors 107 0.98 4.97
Bail bonding 44 0.40 4.27
Barbers 148 1.35 3.21
Retail liquor 84 0.77 3.06
Churches 768 7.02 2.37
Social service & welfare 140 1.28 2.36
Retail grocery 208 1.90 2.31
Convenience stores 186 1.70 2.07
Beauty salons 392 3.59 1.88
Cleaners 78 0.71 1.85
Attorneys 169 1.55 0.39
Real estate 68 0.62 0.40
Accountants 43 0.39 0.43
Insurance 90 0.82 0.45
Dentists 102 0.93 0.58
Banks 47 0.43 0.62
Nonprofit organizations 46 0.42 0.69
Gift shops 45 0.41 0.72
Hotels/motels 46 0.42 0.75
Retail florists 43 0.39 0.98
Total 3,444 32.00 n/a
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 139
social services and welfare establishments. Also note, however, that together
these three relatively overrepresented establishment categories account for
less than 2 percent of all MLK Streets establishments. In absolute terms,
there are more gift shops (45) than bail bonding establishments (44), more
insurance offices (90) than retail liquor stores (84), and more attorney offices
(169) than social service and welfare establishments (140). Yet the over-
representation of some of these business categories on MLK Streets does hint
at the predatory sorts of locational strategies used by some economic ac-
tivities such as payday lenders in targeted central city areas (Graves, 2003).
Churches and government offices (i.e., church and state) are two of the
most overrepresented establishment types found on the nation’s MLK
Streets. The economic importance of these establishments to their home-
towns, while perhaps less obvious than retail and service-oriented establish-
ments, is significant. Though these particular establishment types perform
no sales function (NSF), they typically do employ a significant amount of
labor in relatively high-paying jobs. For example, in 2004 the U.S. federal
(government) civilian payroll alone was more than $148 billion, and in-
cluded more than 2.7 million employees (U.S. Office of Personnel Man-
agement, 2005) at an average annual salary of $54,814. The absence of a
sales function does not confine an establishment to economic marginaliz-
ation within its hometown. Certainly, establishments are important because
they employ people. In addition, many of these NSF establishments possess
significant symbolic and cultural value within their respective communities.
Across the United States, NSF establishments are dramatically overrep-
resented on MLK Streets, accounting for one in five establishments. Of the
10,933 establishments located on MLK Streets, there are 2,437 NSF estab-
lishments. Chi-square tests suggest significant differences ( po0.001) be-
tween the NSF frequencies found on MLK Streets (22.3 percent) and the
NSF frequencies found on JFK Streets (11.3 percent), Main Streets (17.0
percent), and in the total United States (13.6 percent). The high proportion
of NSF establishments on MLK Streets also represents a pronounced de-
parture from what is observed in those streets’ respective hometowns.
Whereas nationally MLK Streets exhibit a relatively small overrepresentation
of low-sales establishments compared to their hometowns (a mean difference
in proportion of only 0.07), those same streets exhibit a substantial over-
representation of NSF establishments (a mean difference in proportions of
0.70). In other words, the proportion of NSF establishments on MLK
Streets is, on average, 70 points larger than the proportion found in the rest
of the respective host city.
Unlike the regional variation in scalar considerations that were reported
earlier, there is little regional variation in the relative concentration of NSF
establishments. A disproportionate share of NSF establishments are found
on MLK Streets regardless of region. The mean differences, between MLK
and host city, for this test are substantive and significant ( po0.001) in the
South (0.68) and the non-South (0.73). It should be noted here that MLK
140 Social Science Quarterly
Streets NSF establishments have a greater concentration in medium-high
and high-employment categories than MLK Streets establishments that do
perform a sales function. In general, these NSF establishments are large.
Although NSF establishments account for just over 22 percent of all MLK
Streets establishments, NSF establishments account for nearly half (46.1
percent) of MLK Streets 469 high-employment establishments. Schools and
government buildings are generally large establishments in terms of em-
ployment. This does suggest that the private-sector activities located on
MLK Streets are appreciably smaller in general and that the lack of dif-
ference in scale that was noted earlier may be an artifact of this basic
compositional distinction.
Despite their relative abundance, NSF establishments on MLK Streets are
concentrated in relatively few SIC codes (Table 5). Again, MLK Streets are
frequently host to both church and state, which together account for more
than half of all NSF establishments on American MLK Streets. For street
naming activists, the ‘‘visibility’’ of churches and schools on a potential
MLK Street is often an important consideration—particularly those estab-
lishments that engage and employ a large number of people. At the same
time, it may also be that streets with a smaller proportion of private-sector
owners face less political opposition in the naming process. Church and state
are probably more receptive to such a name change than is the for-profit
sector, which would more frequently have concern for the immediate cost of
the name change and a longer-term concern for the MLK label’s potential
impact on reduced land vales and local disinvestment.
TABLE 5
Top 10 SICs for MLK Street Establishments with No Sales Function (NSF)
No Sales Function (NSF)
Establishment Type
Frequency on
MLK Street
Percent of NSF
Establishments
on MLK Street
Churches 768 31.51
Government 590 24.21
City 186 7.63
County 183 7.51
State 147 6.03
Federal 74 3.04
Schools 207 8.49
Associations 51 2.09
Nonprofit organizations 44 1.81
Youth organizations & centers 36 1.48
Clubs 34 1.40
Police departments 27 1.11
Religious organizations 23 0.94
Housing authorities 21 0.86
Total 1,801 73.90
Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 141
Discussion
As we noted at the outset of this article, MLK Streets are frequently
subject to a sociocultural process of negative ‘‘branding’’ that identifies them
both as ‘‘African-American space’’ and as landscapes of economic margina-
lization. This brand can be found in a variety of contexts: on coffee tables
and in comedy clubs, in newspapers, and in people’s everyday conversations.
As such, the collective imagining of MLK Streets can also have material
effects, influencing consumer behavior, investment decisions, and the com-
plex, racialized politics of commemoration, as the case of Muncie so clearly
illustrates. What is remarkable about all of this is that the prevailing im-
pression about MLK Streets has never been empirically validated. It has been
our task, of course, to redress this by examining the economic character of
the nation’s 777 MLK Streets. We found that the negative branding of
MLK Streets is largely mythical; in much of the country, there is no real
difference between what we find on MLK Streets and other categories of
urban space. Along the way, we have made several important observations.
First, and most significantly, establishments located on MLK Streets do not
systematically exhibit economic marginality in terms of sales and employ-
ment levels. Compared to JFK and Main Streets and the United States in
general, MLK Streets tend to employ more people, and do not demonstrate
a disproportionate concentration of low sales as one would expect given the
economic image that is contained within the MLK brand. These findings are
also consistent when comparing MLK Streets establishments to other es-
tablishments in their respective hometowns. Second, however, MLK Streets
do systematically display economic differences when compared with other
American streets, in terms of their function and their industrial composition.
For example, MLK Streets host disproportionately high numbers of
churches, government offices, and schools. These establishments are unlike
for-profit establishments in both form and function. Further, these sorts of
establishments are almost always symbolically important within their host
communities, and they also provide an economic importance through em-
ployment levels that are consistently higher than establishments on other
streets and across the remainder of their hometowns.
MLK Streets do not occur in abstract neoclassical economic spaces, but
are places where people live and work. This is why the MLK Streets naming
process is such a potentially emotional process and why it affects commu-
nities such as Muncie, Indiana so deeply. This is especially the case in the
South, the one region where we witness some correlation between the MLK
Street label and the level of economic development. In the South there is
much greater variety in the outcomes of these naming processes and the
frequency of economic marginality seems to be a bit greater.
Ultimately, the precision of the columns and rows of a database pale in
comparison to the lived realities of the people, places, and streets that the
numbers are intended to represent. Qualitative efforts, such as those of
142 Social Science Quarterly
Alderman (2003), whether academic in nature or designed to directly engage
the larger community, appear most capable of helping us understand the
particularities and the peculiarities of individual places in the MLK Streets
naming process. The United States’ 777 MLK Streets were born of 777
sociopolitical negotiations in specific places. Each of these places offers a
unique economic landscape, valued in various ways by residents, workers,
and business owners. In the end, we should strive to elucidate as many of the
777 MLK Streets stories as possible in order to inform and aid communities
in the future as they grapple with the process of commemorating Reverend
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a street name.
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Economic Geographies of Streets Named for Martin Luther King, Jr. 145
... However, MLK streetscapes are also stereotyped spaces of marginalization (Mitchelson et al. 2007). The stereotype(s) involved can be explicitly linked to the racial identity of the streetscapes' inhabitants. ...
... With the objective of challenging some of the common perceptions about MLK neighborhoods, Mitchelson et al. (2007) examined the economic geographies of MLK streets. To do so, they used economic variables, including the number of business establishments in MLK neighborhoods and the scale and composition of those businesses as well as their sales and employment levels. ...
... To do so, they used economic variables, including the number of business establishments in MLK neighborhoods and the scale and composition of those businesses as well as their sales and employment levels. Their analysis concluded that establishments located on MLK streets did not systematically exhibit economic marginality and that MLK neighborhoods were economically vital when compared to other streets with names such as ''JFK Street'' and ''Main Street'' (Mitchelson et al. 2007). This analysis, in turn, motivates the present study, which, likewise, seeks to revisit the geographies of MLK streets and to reexamine them in terms of their demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. ...
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In addition to recognizing a commemorative space and geography that serve to legitimize a particular racial identity, streetscapes in the U.S. named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (MLK) are also a stereotyped space that is presupposed as marginalized. The main objective of this paper is to investigate whether stereotyped MLK neighborhoods differ from the lived spaces. To achieve this objective, the paper relies on two indexes of segregation: namely dissimilarity and interaction indices, the racial composition, and the socioeconomic characteristics of MLK neighborhoods in the 48 contiguous states. Both dissimilarity and interaction indices implied higher segregation in the South and Midwest. The higher proportion of the African American population relative to Whites and other races in the MLK neighborhoods, except in California, confirms that the MLK streetscapes are racially concentrated spaces. Further, analysis of socioeconomic variables does resonate with the stereotype of MLK neighborhoods as marginalized spaces. To demystify the stereotype and to reconstruct the identity of African Americans and their lived and experienced spaces, this paper draws upon studies of the broader process of racialization, critical toponymy, and stereotype theories. Based on this exploratory approach, the paper concludes that though the characteristics of MLK neighborhoods reflect their marginalized status, this status is itself the result of a broader process of racialization. This process has distributed resources unequally among racial groups, forming and buttressing negative stereotypes about African Americans while also stigmatizing their living spaces, which are all too often susceptible to a policy of benign (or not-so-benign) neglect, property devaluation, and industrial pollution.
... A second major conceptual strand in odonymic studies is provided by "conflict theory." In a series of works focused on the contested projects of spatial memorialization of Martin Luther King in cities throughout the Southern United States (the so-called "Deep South"), Alderman (2002Alderman ( , 2003 advanced the proposal of theorising street names as "cultural arenas" where social struggles for racial recognition, historical reparation, and memorial justice are being fought out (Mitchelson et al. 2007;Alderman & Inwood 2013). This model was subsequently employed by other scholars in documenting the identity politics played out through naming the urban streetscape in places outside the United States, such as the multi-ethnic Oradea in Romania (Erőss & Tátrai 2010) and the border town of Komotini in northern Greece (Demetriou 2006). ...
... In the politics of spatial inscription, the neoliberal commodification of street names through place branding has been the major process. The toponomastic scholarship has documented how this ongoing market assetisation of urban toponymy has unfolded in places across the world -such as Douala and Yaounde in Cameroon (Njoh 2010), Dublin in Ireland (Wonneberger 2012), Acre in Israel (Shoval 2013), and the streets named after Martin Luther King in the United States (Mitchelson et al. 2007) -which highlights the global dimension of this neoliberal transformation of urban namescapes. ...
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Street names (odonyms) and their academic study constitute an important part of onomastic research. This paper takes stock of the growing literature on street naming processes and provides a meta-analytical systematic review of odonymic scholarship. To this purpose, a collection of 121 peer-reviewed articles on street names published in English language academic journals in the social sciences and the humanities were identified in the Scopus database. The statistical analyses conducted on these materials indicate (1) the temporal dynamics of knowledge production and the geographical hotspots in toponomastic scholarship, (2) the geopolitical settings and historical contexts framing these studies, (3) the theoretical perspectives employed to conceptualise street naming practices, and (4) the methodological outlines characterising the research done on street names in the 270 MIHAI S. RUSU literature. The conclusions point out four main clusters of toponomastic research and indicate directions for future inquiry in street name scholarship. Pratiques de dénomination des rues : Une revue systématique de la littérature sur la toponymie urbaine Résumé : Le nom des rues (odonymes) et leur étude scientifique constituent une partie importante de la recherche onomastique. Cette étude fait le bilan de la littérature croissante sur le processus de l'attribution de noms des rues et offre une méta-analyse systématique de la littérature existante sur les odonymes. Dans ce but, on a identifié et utilisé un nombre de 121 articles en anglais dédiés à ce sujet, publiés dans des revues à comité de lecture en sciences humaines et sociales faisant partie de la base de données Scopus. L'analyse statistique menée sur cette collection d'articles en anglais met en évidence (1) la dynamique temporelle de la production scientifique et la concentration géographique de la recherche sur la toponymie, (2) les contextes géopolitique et historique qui encadrent ces études, (3) les perspectives théoriques utilisées pour la conceptualisation des pratiques de l'attribution des noms des rues et (4) les cadres méthodologiques employés par la recherche portée sur les noms des rues dans cette littérature. Les conclusions soulignent quatre groupes principaux d'étude et indiquent les directions pour la recherche future dans le domaine toponymique. Mots-clés : Nom des rues, changement de noms de rues, toponomastique, odonyms, noms des endroits. Straßenbenennungspraktiken: Eine systematische Untersuchung der urbanen toponymischen Erforschung Zusammenfassung: Straßennamen (Hodonyme) und ihre akademische Untersuchung sind ein wichtiger Bestandteil der Onomastik Forschung. Die vorliegende Studie zieht eine Bestandsaufnahme der wachsenden Literatur zu Straßenbennenungprozesse und bietet einen metaanalytischen systematischen Überblick über die Forschung der Hodonyme an. Zu diesem Zweck wurde in der Scopus Datenbank eine Sammlung von 121 wissenschaftliche Artikel identifiziert, die in englischsprachigen Fachzeitschriften der Sozial-und Geisteswissenschaften veröffentlicht wurden. Die statistische Analyse des Korpus zeigt (1) die zeitliche Dynamik der Wissensproduktion und die geografischen Hotspots der bisherigen Forschung der Toponomastik, (2) die geopolitischen Rahmenbedingungen und die historischen Kontexte und deren Einfluss auf die Studien (3) die theoretischen Perspektiven, die zur Konzeptualisierung der Grundsätze und Verfahren der Straßenumbennenung angewandt wurden und (4) die methodologischen Zugänge, die die Forschung zu Straßennamen in der Literatur charakterisieren. Die Schlussfolgerungen weisen auf vier Hauptcluster der Toponomastik Forschung hin und bieten einen Ausblick auf zukünftige Forschungsrichtungen der Straßennamenkunde. Schlüsselbegriffe: Straßennamen, Umbenennung der Straßen, Toponomastik, Hodonyme, Ortsnamen.
... Efforts have also long been underway, though with less success, to marshal sociopolitical and financial resources to memorialize Black women and men in the Southern landscape, at times both reinforcing and challenging hegemonic narratives concerning race and gender (Savage 1997, Alderman 2000, 2006Mitchelson et al. 2007, Leib 2002, 2006Dwyer and Alderman 2008b, Inwood 2009, Caliendo 2011, Tretter 2011, Alderman and Inwood 2013b, Bruyneel 2014, Woodley 2018, Tell 2019. Studies show that naming streets for Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) has often been a difficult process fraught by maneuvering reputational politics (Alderman 2002(Alderman , 2003(Alderman , 2006, conflicting ideas over business address branding (Mitchelson et al. 2007, Alderman 2008, spatializing injustices in the politics of belonging (Alderman and Inwood 2013b), and the stigmatizing and segregating geographies of racial identity associated with places bearing MLK's name (Tiwari and Ambinakudige 2020). ...
... Efforts have also long been underway, though with less success, to marshal sociopolitical and financial resources to memorialize Black women and men in the Southern landscape, at times both reinforcing and challenging hegemonic narratives concerning race and gender (Savage 1997, Alderman 2000, 2006Mitchelson et al. 2007, Leib 2002, 2006Dwyer and Alderman 2008b, Inwood 2009, Caliendo 2011, Tretter 2011, Alderman and Inwood 2013b, Bruyneel 2014, Woodley 2018, Tell 2019. Studies show that naming streets for Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) has often been a difficult process fraught by maneuvering reputational politics (Alderman 2002(Alderman , 2003(Alderman , 2006, conflicting ideas over business address branding (Mitchelson et al. 2007, Alderman 2008, spatializing injustices in the politics of belonging (Alderman and Inwood 2013b), and the stigmatizing and segregating geographies of racial identity associated with places bearing MLK's name (Tiwari and Ambinakudige 2020). ...
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In this paper, we bring together the hope of regenerative development with mobilities literature broadly and actor-network theory specifically to explicate a regenerative memorialization paradigm. Regenerative memorialization emphasizes the inherent (im)mobilities of memory – the flows and networks associated with people, ideas, materials, capital, and development that constitute memorial landscapes – and the reparative and self-healing possibilities of those landscapes as part of constantly evolving sociocultural systems. Applying this paradigm to the dynamic geographies of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, we illustrate the power of memory on the move where the past is connected to the present and the aspirations for the future via complex actor networks, charting paths toward more socially just futures for the American South. Finally, we argue for participatory mapping of actants and actor networks, more diverse social justice organizations creating and connecting to existing cultural spaces for and landscapes of memory, and accordingly, that intersectionality guide these practices, for a future of regenerative memorialization in the South.
... The very signage used to mark toponyms-while often perceived as mundane and merely informative-"constitute[s] part of a highly invested political strategy for producing a linguistic landscape" and maintaining or challenging symbolic power (Bigon and Dahamshe 2014, 606). Memorial toponyms work materially to make buildings and streets usable and recognizable; facilitate commerce, transportation, and travel; participate in state formation and international politics; and demarcate zones of exclusivity and stigma in neighborhoods (Mitchelson et al. 2007;Adebanwi 2012;Spocter 2018). Place names participate in producing distinctive scalar constructions of memory that can reinforce longstanding socio-spatial boundaries or create new material connections between people, places and histories (Alderman and Inwood 2013). ...
Chapter
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Memorial toponyms represent highly charged civic issues within communities, but many elected officials, journalists, citizen groups, and even some scholars lack a full understanding of these struggles and what they mean. Although often taken for granted, commemorative place naming is important to people’s storytelling, lived material experiences, and political-emotional well-being as they inhabit, claim, and create places. To understand the protests in Paris and elsewhere, this chapter identifies the commemorative work underlying and performed by place naming. We review established and emerging approaches within the field to explain the narrative, affective, and material capacities of memorial toponyms along with their reparative possibilities and limits.
... Los estudios toponímicos con enfoque ideológico e identitario también abordan aspectos de raza y género (Alderman e Inwood, 2013), ya que el dominio político tradicional de los hombres de raza blanca ha impedido o minimizado la existencia de toponimia urbana referida a personas de otras razas y a mujeres (de cualquier raza). También son estudiados bajo el mismo enfoque otros fenómenos recientes como la mercantilización toponímica (Mitchelson et al., 2007;Light y Young, 2015): cada vez son más los nombres de lugar cuyos derechos son comprados y vendidos como mercancía, ya que son una forma de poder simbólico que crea distinción social entre las élites y el populacho y que puede transformarse en capital simbólico (Bourdieu, 1991;Rose-Redwood, 2008). Cabe señalar que la imagen de poder que generan los topónimos ha ejercido un rol notable en la promoción socioeconómica de ciertos lugares. ...
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La relación entre Geografía y Toponimia es incuestionable, ya que los topónimos designan lugares de la superficie terrestre, y la Geografía es la ciencia que estudia los fenómenos que suceden sobre dichos lugares. Además, los nombres de lugar son una herramienta de primer orden para la reconstitución de un paisaje geográfico desaparecido. La Geografía, la Historia y la Lingüística son las tres principales disciplinas auxiliares de la ciencia toponímica. Se lleva a cabo un análisis toponímico de un caso paradigmático al respecto: Alacant/Alicante. Por un lado repasamos su larga y convulsa historia antigua, que implicó el abandono del poblado romano y su traslado –junto con su topónimo– al solar actual en época altomedieval. También realizamos un análisis geográfico de los rasgos físicos del entorno del poblado romano. Por último, proponemos una interpretación etimológica del topónimo y formulamos una hipótesis novedosa sobre el posible contenido semántico del mismo.
... Los estudios toponímicos con enfoque ideológico e identitario también abordan aspectos de raza y género (Alderman e Inwood, 2013), ya que el dominio político tradicional de los hombres de raza blanca ha impedido o minimizado la existencia de toponimia urbana referida a personas de otras razas y a mujeres (de cualquier raza). También son estudiados bajo el mismo enfoque otros fenómenos recientes como la mercantilización toponímica (Mitchelson et al., 2007;Light y Young, 2015): cada vez son más los nombres de lugar cuyos derechos son comprados y vendidos como mercancía, ya que son una forma de poder simbólico que crea distinción social entre las élites y el populacho y que puede transformarse en capital simbólico (Bourdieu, 1991;Rose-Redwood, 2008). Cabe señalar que la imagen de poder que generan los topónimos ha ejercido un rol notable en la promoción socioeconómica de ciertos lugares. ...
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Resumen. La relación entre Geografía y Toponimia es incuestionable, ya que los topónimos designan lugares de la superficie terrestre, y la Geografía es la ciencia que estudia los fenómenos que suceden sobre dichos lugares. Además, los nombres de lugar son una herramienta de primer orden para la reconstitución de un paisaje geográfico desaparecido. La Geografía, la Historia y la Lingüística son las tres principales disciplinas auxiliares de la ciencia toponímica. Se lleva a cabo un análisis toponímico de un caso paradigmático al respecto: Alacant/Alicante. Por un lado repasamos su larga y convulsa historia antigua, que implicó el abandono del poblado romano y su traslado-junto con su topónimo-al solar actual en época altomedieval. También realizamos un análisis geográfico de los rasgos físicos del entorno del poblado romano. Por último, proponemos una interpretación etimológica del topónimo y formulamos una hipótesis novedosa sobre el posible contenido semántico del mismo. Palabras clave: toponimia; Alicante/Alacant/Laqant/Lucentum; Tossal de Manises; L'Albufereta. [en] The role of Geography in the analysis of the meaning of place names. The case of Alicante Abstract. The relation between Geography and Toponymy is remarkable, since place names designate places upon the terrestrial surface, and geography is the science that studies phenomena happening upon those places. In addition, place names are an exceptional tool for reconstituting a disappeared geographic landscape. Geography, History and Linguistics are the three main auxiliary disciplines in order to study place names. A place name analysis of a paradigmatic case (Alacant/Alicante) is studied in this paper. First we review the long, convulsive history of ancient Alicante, which involved the abandonment of its Roman site and its moving-together with its place name-into its current location. We also carry out a geographic analysis of the physical features around the Roman site. Finally we carry out an etymological analysis of this place name and formulate a new hypothesis about its possible meaning. [fr] Le rôle de la géographie dans l'analyse sémantique des toponymes. Le cas d'Alicante Résumé. La relation entre la Géographie et la Toponymie est remarquable, puisque les noms de lieux désignent des endroits sur la surface terrestre, et la Géographie est la science qui étudie les phénomènes qui se produisent sur ces lieux. De plus, les noms de lieux sont un outil exceptionnel pour reconstituer un paysage géographique disparu. Géographie, Histoire et Linguistique sont les trois principales disciplines auxiliaires pour étudier les noms de lieux. Une analyse toponymique d'un cas paradigmatique (Alacant/Alicante) est étudiée dans cet article. Tout d'abord, nous passons en revue l'histoire ancienne et convulsive d'Alicante, qui a impliqué l'abandon de son site romain et son déplacement-avec son toponyme-dans son emplacement actuel. Nous effectuons également une analyse géographique des caractéristiques physiques autour du site romain. Enfin, nous effectuons une analyse étymologique de ce nom de lieu et formulons une nouvelle hypothèse sur sa possible sémantique. Mots clés: Toponymie; Alicante/Alacant/Laqant/Lucentum; Tossal de Manises; L'Albufereta. Cómo citar. Membrado-Tena, J.C. (2018): El papel de la Geografía en el análisis del contenido semántico de los topónimos. El caso de Alicante. Anales de Geografía de la Universidad Complutense, 38(1), 35-60.
... D'altres exemples els trobem a Alemanya, on Hitler havia previst canviar el nom a Berlín per a dir-li Welthauptstadt Germania (Germania Capital Mundial), i on, sota el govern de la República Democràtica Alemanya, la ciutat saxona de Chemnitz va ser anomenada Karl-Marx-Stadt entre 1953 i 1990; o a Itàlia, on després de la caiguda del règim feixista de Mussolini, la ciutat de Mussolinia di Sardegna va passar a dir-se Arborea, i la de Littoria (de fascio littorio, el símbol feixista) va canviar el seu nom pel de Latina; o a la URSS, on Sant Petersburg esdevingué Leningrad (1924Leningrad ( -1991 i la ciutat tàrtara de Sary Su o Tsaritsyn Stalingrad (1929-1961 Alguns dels nous estudis toponímics crítics també tracten aspectes de raça i gènere (Berg i Kearns, 1996;Alderman i Inwood, 2013), ja que el domini polític tradicional dels homes de raça blanca ha desterrat de la toponímia urbana els noms de dones, en general, i de persones afroamericanes, en particular (o almenys els ha mantingut com relativament infreqüents). També són estudiats sota el mateix enfocament altres fenòmens recents com ara la mercantilització toponímica (Mitchelson et al., 2007;Light i Young, 2015): cada vegada són més els noms de lloc els drets dels quals són comprats i venuts com a mercaderia, ja que són una forma de poder simbòlic que crea distinció social entre les elits i el populatxo i que pot transformar-se en capital simbòlic (Bourdieu, 1991;Raento i Douglass, 2001;Alderman, 2008;Rose-Redwood, 2008). ...
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La comarca de l’Horta de València, la més poblada del País Valencià, rep aquest nom perquè fins a principis del segle XX la seua economia es basava en la seua riquíssima horta (‘terra de regadiu’). A partir de l’estudi dels topònims dels seus nuclis urbans (on l’horta ha estat eradicada) es reconstitueix virtualment el paisatge cultural hortícola perdut en les últimes dècades per a donar a conèixer a la ciutadania i així conscienciar-la del valor patrimonial d’aquest paisatge cultural de l’aigua desaparegut, i també per a revalorar el que sobreviu d’horta encara. Es porta a terme una anàlisi toponímica dels nuclis habitats de la comarca: d’una banda, seguint la metodologia clàssica de recol·lecció de noms de lloc i explicació del seu origen i semàntica; de l’altra, des de l’enfocament crític que estudia l’aspecte ideològic i identitari que enclou la toponímia. Tots dos enfocaments poden integrar-se per a obtenir una anàlisi toponímica més complexa.
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