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Renaming Dowling Street

The process has to change before the name can be changed.

For years, Third Ward residents have had to roll with the changes in their community, often having to live with decisions made in the corridors of power at City Hall.

That’s how East Broadway, the main road running through one of Houston’s historical African-American neighborhoods, became Dowling Street, named in honor of a Confederate war hero. That’s how Dowling’s name ended up on street signs along the east side of Emancipation Park, so named because it was the place recently-freed blacks celebrated the end of slavery.

Times have changed, however, and now community leaders and local officials are poised to change Dowling Street into Emancipation Avenue – even though doing so will require changing the rules at City Hall.

Community efforts to gather enough support from property owners on Dowling have come up short of meeting the city’s requirements for a resident-initiated name-change. That has caused State Rep. Garnet Coleman, who represents the area, to urge the city to revise its standards for how to change street names.

“Rightly so, because the process is impossible,” Coleman said, defending the decision to revise the rules during the process.

Houston planning officials, at the direction of Mayor Sylvester Turner, are proposing amendments to the rules to allow for city-initiated street name changes, starting with Dowling. That would mean that rather than requiring 75 percent of landowners along the street to support the renaming, the city can consider a name change if “sufficient” evidence of community support exists, after extensive public outreach.

City planning officials agree current standards lack the latitude to allow communities to sponsor name changes, especially along thoroughfares like Dowling that are a blend of residential, business and nonprofit property owners.

The mixed uses, absentee landlords and inaccurate property records in some cases made gathering signatures from three-fourths of property owners challenging, Coleman said.

“We sent out petitions to all of the property owners,” Coleman said, “We weren’t able to get to 50 percent back. The hurdle is too high.”

My position here is the same as it was for the school renaming issue, and that is that having something named after you is a privilege and not a right. There should be a process to allow residents to get a street name changed, one that is achievable but also ensures that everyone gets a chance to weigh in. The current process is too cumbersome, so changing it to be more achievable is fine by me. There doesn’t seem to be any real opposition to changing the process, or to the specific effort to rename Dowling Street, at least as far as this story goes. I suspect the renaming effort will be much less controversial, as people don’t have their identities tied to street names like they do to school names. I may revise this opinion once Council takes up the matter.

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4 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    ” There doesn’t seem to be any real opposition to changing the process, or to the specific effort to rename Dowling Street, at least as far as this story goes.”

    Found it:

    “We sent out petitions to all of the property owners,” Coleman said, “We weren’t able to get to 50 percent back. The hurdle is too high.”

    The majority of property owners who actually have skin in the game of Dowling Street don’t want to change the name.

  2. Brad says:

    “Majority”?!…probably more like apathy or a desire not change ther stationery heading.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    @Brad:

    “At this point, what difference does it make?”

    Let’s say a bunch of people who don’t live or own property on your street decide they want the name of your street changed. They send you a petition to do just that. You don’t want the street name changed. You don’t sign the petition. Most of your neighbors also don’t sign. Shouldn’t that be the end of the issue?

    People who don’t live on your street want to disrupt your life and tap the taxpayers for money for an unnecessary project shouldn’t get to override YOUR right to be left alone.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    How about this for an example:

    Trump becomes president. He fulfills some of his campaign promises, becomes wildly successful and wildly popular with the majority of the American people. After he leaves office, Houstonians want to honor his legacy be renaming, oh, I don’t know, let’s say MLK Blvd. So petitions are sent out to those that live and own property on MLK, but it seems that less than half of those folks sign the petition. But that’s not good enough, so that band of determined folks who want the street renamed Trump Blvd. seek to have the rules changed, because “rules too hard.”

    Is that OK, or maybe should the Trump supporters who failed to get the signatures required just be told to go home and pound sand?

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