This summer, a stretch of Spring Street was renamed in honor of Ted Turner. Maybe you heard. Keeping up with our constant street name changes is a challenge, and not a new one: In 1903 the Atlanta Constitution reported that more than 225 city streets had changed names at least once—some as many as seven times. Which is surprising, because it’s actually not that easy, as you can see below.
How to change a street name
The potential new name is submitted to the city, and the Atlanta City Council may choose to examine whether the name is worthy. 1 The Atlanta History Center may chime in on the historical significance of the proposed location, which, in addition to a street, could include a park, bridge, or even the side of a building. 2 To avoid political ramifications, it’s simpler to rename a place that hasn’t already been named for a person. 3
If a street is chosen, the appropriate Neighborhood Planning Unit and residents and tenants are contacted. City code says 75 percent of the people on a street have to agree to the change. 4
Two public hearings are held for members of the general public to voice their support—or their grievances—in front of the council, which then votes yea or nay. 5
The fine print
1 The application to rename a stretch of Spring Street in honor of a certain cable TV tycoon came from the group Friends of Ted Turner. The danger of naming streets for still-living people, of course, is that they might come back to embarrass you. Look no further than Cynthia McKinney Parkway, a stretch of Memorial Drive renamed in 2000 after then-congresswoman McKinney won $14 million in funds to upgrade that road. In the decade following, McKinney suggested that the Bush administration had advance notice of the 9/11 attacks.
2 Grant Park was named for the 19th-century engineer and businessman Lemuel P. Grant, who donated land to the city, and Candler Park for Coca-Cola magnate Asa G. Candler. Spaghetti Junction is officially called Tom Moreland Interchange in honor of the longtime Georgia transportation chief.
3 In 2011 there was debate over renaming Harris Street after renowned architect John Portman. John L. Harris had been a city attorney, a judge, and a state representative—and, as the council found out just before the vote, a lieutenant colonel for the Confederacy. Some believe Harris commanded troops that massacred wounded black soldiers at the Battle of Olustee, while historians contend his Fourth Georgia Volunteer Cavalry unit didn’t participate. It ended in a compromise: We now know the street as “John Portman Boulevard at Historic Harris Street.”
4 The statute is less a legal necessity than a courtesy—council members can simply waive that “requirement.” In the case of Ted Turner Drive at Historic Spring Street, nine of the council members agreed to do so; of the three dissenters on the name change vote, at least one was in protest of waiving the statute.
5 Atlanta icon Andrew Young (who has a boulevard named after him) said of the Ted Turner effort: “One man . . . can change the world. And I think when we name this street for Ted Turner, we perpetuate a legacy that is the best for the city of Atlanta.”
Ted Turner Drive at Historic Spring Street
Cynthia McKinney Parkway
Tom Moreland Interchange
John Portman Boulevard at Historic Harris Street
Andrew Young International Boulevard
This article originally appeared in our October 2015 issue under the headline “Where the streets have new names.”