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Debate over street name: Is real issue stationery?

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By JAN GLIDEWELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 12, 2000


Nothing creates environmentalists faster than plans to build a highway, pipeline or commercial water pumping operation.

Nothing creates traffic engineering experts more quickly than a proposed public housing project or halfway house for convicts or recovering drug addicts.

And nothing evinces a deep concern for small business stationery supplies faster than discussions about renaming a street for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Okay. For the record. Some people are genuinely concerned about the aquifer, snail-darters, cypress trees and the rights of diatoms. Some people really do have concerns about the effects of increased population density on the infrastructure -- and buying new stationery can be a burden, no matter how minor, on a small business owner.

But hearing the same objections repeated often enough can make you suspicious after a while.

And, although my guess is we'll never find out, if Bob Thomas reopened Crystal Springs for swimming, a lot (although admittedly probably not all) of his detractors would fade away.

Every time someone finally decides to move or cancel a pipeline, power line or highway project, folks in the neighborhood are suddenly just fine with the world, and, you will note, hardly ever go rushing off to aid soon-to-be-upset residents of the new area threatened by the construction.

Officials in Brooksville finally got around to naming a street after King, a decade or two or three after most other cities, but not without some of the standard complaints.

A couple of prominent white citizens (Sorry for the juxtaposition of the words white and citizen, it just came out that way . . . I don't really think there is a White Citizens Council in Brooksville, but who knows?) thought it was okay if a section of Summit Drive -- the portion in a predominantly African-American neighborhood -- was named for King. But not the whole road, part of which runs through -- gasp -- a predominantly white neighborhood.

One of them defended segregation as being something that might look wrong to the North, but "was just our culture.

"I think we've reformed enough, don't you?" she asked.

I presume she meant the question to be rhetorical.

And, as happened in Dade City and elsewhere when it came time to name a street for King, a businessman complained that he would have to spend $2,000 in new cards, stationery and staff time if the name change was approved (as it finally was).

And maybe his concerns were legitimate too, except that the U.S. Postal Service usually allows a year grace period for mail delivery -- a period in which most stationery inventories can be pretty well used up.

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the country went on a binge of renaming schools, streets, buildings and, in Florida, even a city after him.

Same thing after the Challenger disaster.

Hospitals in Pasco County change their names more frequently than they water their lawns. (I have lived here 27 years and could not, at this point, give you the full proper name of any of them without asking someone.)

And a few years back, the post office changed every single building number in Dade City to five digits so that we could be placed on a special grid system that made it easier to answer 911 calls.

I didn't hear a single complaint about that. Every business and residence in Dade City had to comply, and every business in Dade City that uses letterheads had to have new stationery.

Nada.

Once, before I die, I'd find it interesting to hear people complain that they want their swimming hole back, think a new road will screw up their view, don't want sick people or people who have been in trouble in their neighborhoods and don't want any part of honoring someone of a different race whose politics are different from their own.

I won't like it, but I'll probably faint and, at least, get a good night's sleep out of it.

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