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Streetsmarts: Learning Local History Through Street Signs

What's in a street name? I walk past "Erasmus Mike Napolitano Corner" every day—not an easy name to squeeze onto a street sign—and one day I finally googled it. Mike, it turned out, lived in my neighborhood his entire life, and was just a great neighbor: the kind of person who cleaned up parks, helped old people get rides, and who translated for the area's many immigrants. New York City eventually honored him with a sign. Further down the street, there's Love Lane, which I found out was a place where 17th-century Dutch sweethearts came to make out.

Street names help us learn the buried histories of our cities, whether it's recent or long past. Even seemingly mundane names, like Manhattan's Avenue A, can be interesting to learn about; searching for Avenue A reveals 200-year-old urban planning strategies. For San Franciscans, here's an interesting new site that makes history-via-street names more accessible. The designers made it easy to explore. Clicking on a street pulls up a short history and a link to more, and you can also sort by category ("gold rush,"or "authors," for example). I wish this existed for every city.

What's the story behind the street names on your block?

This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship—weekly steps to being an active, engaged global citizen. This week: Learn About Your Local History. Follow along and join the conversation at and on Twitter at #goodcitizen.

Top photo via (cc) Flickr user *Bitch Cake*s

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