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The idea has been raised: Should Lansing rename a local street after President Barack Obama?
Samara Morgan, chairwoman of Lansing’s Board of Public Service, said she would be “thrilled” to see a local street renamed after the former president after the concept first surfaced at a board meeting earlier this month. The idea is still in its infancy. No proposals have been developed. But interest in the name is growing, she said.
“Some citizens are interested in exploring the possibility of naming a street after President Obama. Right now, we are in a preliminary discussion phase and just brainstorming ideas,” Morgan explained in an email. “I support doing something to honor President Obama, as once upon a time we had a president worthy of honor.”
At least 15 streets in the United States and two outside the U.S. (in Spain and Tanzania) have already been named after the 44th president.
The Lansing City Council has voted to rename streets after historic icons in the past. And almost all of the ideas have generated controversy among local residents. The biggest was in 1994 and 1995, when the Lansing City Council approved renaming Grand Avenue for migrant rights champion Cesar Chavez – then voters reversed the decision the next year. More than 20 years later, a part of Grand River Avenue was renamed after him, despite some opposition from merchants in Old Town.
“I don’t know how to feel about it,” added board member Nancy Mahlow. “It’s nothing against Obama. He was a great president, but there’s always a big controversy with renaming streets. There would need to be public discussions and homeowners would need to be notified. There are costs. It’s just a whole bunch of hoops.”
City officials said renaming a street involves a formal recommendation from the Board of Public Service, which would then head to the City Council for a public hearing and final approval. Lansing Public Service Director Andy Kilpatrick said any name change would also generate costs for local business owners and for new signage.
“I was very supportive of the idea,” added board member John Krohn. “It’s early, and there was no significant action taken, but it’s something we’re all thinking about now. I think the atmosphere was generally supportive.”
Kilpatrick said board member Stacey Locke brought up the idea at a board meeting earlier this month. Locke and board members Jason Wilkes, Cleophus Anderson and Dulce Cardenas couldn’t be reached for comment.
“It was a very informal discussion,” added board member Walt Sorg. “It’s definitely an interesting concept, but I can’t think of any circumstances where we’ve named a street after someone who is alive before. I don’t know how that works. One of the main points was that he’s a historic national figure, but again, it’s just an early idea.”
Morgan noted that no specific streets have been identified as the preliminary discussions continue, but she hopes that awareness of the idea could serve as the impetus for a “citizen movement” to put some changes into motion.
“Any time the public is engaged in a positive cause, I’m happy,” Morgan added.
In 1989, Logan Street was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In 2010, Main Street became Malcolm X Street. In 2018, the City Council voted unanimously to change Grand River Avenue to Cesar Chavez Avenue. And that idea faced significant backlash from local preservationists and the Old Town Commercial Association.
Some, at the time, wanted to maintain the historic integrity of Grand River Avenue’s original name. Others in the local business community complained about the costs associated with changing logos and other signage. But eventually (and with vehement support from Lansing’s Hispanic community) the changeover was made official.
At this juncture, it’s unclear whether the Obama concept will actually develop into a recommendation for the City Council, but Morgan encourages those with feedback to reach out to the Lansing Board of Public Service.
(The email address is email@example.com.)
“We kind of just throw these things out there at these meetings,” Mahlow added. “It’s just a suggestion that turned into a discussion. A lot of times that’s where it ends. We don’t really know where this will go just yet.”