THE EDITOR: Many street names are of historical significance and they form part of our cultural identity. Renaming streets is just another attempt to erase our history. Local activists say they want to break free from names associated with the British era, but is that the right thing to do?
If this is the reasoning behind renaming streets in our country and those with the authority to do so wish to change the names, then go ahead and do so. But at least have a plaque that talks about the old name and its significance. You cannot erase history to create new identities.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have no objection to honouring the legacy of our local heroes but instead of renaming existing streets that are of historical significance in the name of cultural relevance, let’s find other meaningful ways to acknowledge our heroes. For example by naming a new building, the new wing of a hospital, a scholarship fund, a bursary after them. All of these are probably far more useful and meaningful than renaming a street after someone.
As leaders in society we also have to consider carefully the extent to which renaming of streets produce real cultural change, where we can see a different kind of society that's more inclusive and responsive to the realities of present day.
We have to be careful of the kind of subliminal messages we are sending to the youths about just who are considered our local heroes. Will only our calypsonians, pannists and sporting heroes be so honoured, or are there specific established guidelines and criteria to determine whether an individual selected to have a street renamed in his honour has provided extraordinary public service or some exemplary contribution to the public and is associated with the community where the street is located? There must be a balance.
Another issue we need to consider carefully is gender bias. Besides the naming of a street in Port of Spain after Janelle Penny Commissiong, have any other streets in our country been renamed after a woman who has made an exemplary contribution to our society recently?
There will always be arguments for and against the renaming of streets, but it is imperative that we as a people adhere to best practices if our intent is to shape and support a local identity. However, due to the increasing focus on the preservation of historic buildings and street names, it is worth considering a focused review of all policies, including one on equality and diversity when considering renaming street or promenades in the future.