Back in September, county officials and developers Washington Property Company celebrated the groundbreaking of 1150 Ripley Street, a new apartment building in downtown Silver Spring's Ripley District, which is bounded by Georgia Avenue, Wayne Avenue and the train tracks. Silver Spring, Singular often makes fun of the "Ripley District" name, which for now is just a marketing term. This logo found at the developer's website doesn't help their case:
The new development will include a new street between Ripley and Bonifant streets. TBD suggested it would be called "Ripifant," a portmanteau of the two streets that left a few people, including myself, scratching their heads. Though County Councilmember George Leventhal says that it'll just be called Ripley Street, I started thinking about how we name places and streets in Montgomery County.
Often, you can tell how old a place is by what things are named after and how meaningful they are. A map of Montgomery County reads like a history textbook: Generals Sherman, Lee and Grant have avenues named after them in Takoma Park, which was first laid out after the Civil War. In the 1930's, we named the county's first regional high schools for Lincoln's postmaster general and a Revolutionary War hero. Even minor figures, like businessman William Thayer, were memorialized in street names.
Meanwhile, in the five-year-old subdivision of Woodcliffe Park in Germantown, you can go to the corner of Northern Dancer Lane and Dark Star Way. In Clarksburg Town Center, still under construction, Granite Rock Road crosses Rainbow Arch Lane. And in Poplar Run, a new development at the former Indian Spring Country Club in Layhill that hasn't even opened yet, there's a Moonlight Trail Drive and Autumn Sage Lane.
These names are sweet and poetic, but what do they really mean? Do they actually have any significance to the communities they're located in? Street names in the planned community of Columbia don't always have a local tie, as entire neighborhoods have street names derived from Shakespeare's plays, for instance. But having themed street names can result in a memorable place, even if they can be embarrassing to the people living on, say, Satan Wood Drive.
It doesn't have to be this way. Names should reflect the people, events and history of the places they serve. A few blocks from Silver Spring's Ripley District is a new street called Bottleworks Lane, named for the former Canada Dry bottling plant nearby. And in the Tanterra neighborhood of Olney there's a street called Considine Drive. It's named after Andy Considine, a former cop who walked the streets around the Park and Planning Commission in Silver Spring during the 1970's. Andy was my driving instructor in high school, and one day during my on-road lesson he directed me to the street named for him.
"A builder came in with a plan for a subdivision, but he didn't have names for all the streets," he told me. "So one of the planners said, why don't we just name it after Andy?" It's a small gesture, but one that gives a place added significance and character.
We already do that with the naming of parks and some public buildings. After County Councilmember Marilyn Praisner passed away two years ago, we named a library and recreation center after her. She helped get them built and funded, and now every kid who reads a book or plays basketball in East County will know who she is. There's a playground in Kensington dedicated to recently-passed civic activist Wayne Goldstein and a park in downtown Silver Spring for current Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson - dedicated after he retired the first time thirty years ago.
There's no shortage of potential namesakes for the Ripifant Streets and Moonlight Trail Drives of Montgomery County. Instead of going with a derivative name, we should pick one that commemorates our local history and heritage. Otherwise, we stand to lose them amidst a word salad of place names that could be anywhere else.