Canindia News

Why changing the name of streets and buildings is a bad idea

Pradip Rodrigues

By now everyone must know that Brampton City Council voted to rename part of Peter Robertson Boulevard after Sikh religion founder Guru Nanak, where the Guru Nanak Mission Centre Gurudwara is located.

That decision was controversial among a large section of Bramptonians for a variety of reasons, but one reason was echoed by the man whose name was being affected-former mayor of Brampton Peter Robertson. Following the decision, he addressed council and expressed concern over the city naming streets for religious institutions.

“The precedent of naming a street after a religious institution is problematic and quite dangerous,” he voiced the concern felt by many secular-minded people that this could lead to an avalanche of similar requests given the number of religious institutions in the city.

Robertson highlighted the Gore Road as an example, which is home to several religious institutions along its route including St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbarat Gurdwara and the Hindu Sabha Temple.

“If each one of those has a little section of the Gore Road renamed after their religious institution, it’s going to be quite confusing and you might upset quite a few people in the city of Brampton,” he said.

I can’t help but feel a little bad for Peter Robertson because although just a portion of the road re-named after him has changed, it is almost like a part of that recognition for his contributions to Brampton was also taken away from him.

One only hopes that there are no more places of worship that could spring up along that road in the future because each one of them would justifiably demand that the stretch of road approaching the place of worship be renamed, this could leave Peter Robertson Blvd. to be nothing more than the name of a short stretch of asphalt.

While it is appropriate that cities reflect and name new streets and buildings after local residents who’ve contributed to the city’s development and betterment, the jury is still out on whether public streets and buildings should be named or renamed after religious heads and other foreigners who have had little or nothing to do with Brampton or for that matter any city. It is a fair point to debate. I am sure we would be having an international debate if a street or hospital was named or renamed after a Christian religious figure in 2019.

When a road is named after an icon, national or international, it is rarely contentious, unless of course that name happens to be disgraced Prince Andrew, but when a street or building named after a local hero is renamed or tampered with, it is bound to agitate residents in any city, not because they are against new Canadians or against new ideas, but they sense a loss of identity.

As the demographics in Brampton changes, there is a fear that plenty more will be changing. The chasm between the dwindling number of older and whiter Bramptonians and newer and browner residents will only grow. 52 per cent – 308,790 residents of 593,638 – of Brampton’s population was born outside of Canada. Brampton’s total visible minority population in the city sits at 433,230, mostly of South Asian descent. Today we have two Sikh councillors and there will come a time in the near future when Brampton will have its first Sikh mayor and all of its councillors will probably be South Asian.

Is that reason for non-brown Bramtonians to be alarmed? Not really because when that happens, the one-time minority community that becomes the majority will be forced to be more sensitive to non-brown residents.

To understand what could possibly unfold, one can turn to Santa Ana in California which was once a mostly white Republican bastion. Some years ago, it became the first city to have an all-Latino City Council.

Santa Ana which is a 15-minute drive from Disneyland has a historic downtown clustered around what the official city map calls “Fourth Street,” but everyone knows it as “Calle Cuatro.”

Councillors are very mindful of not coming across as parochial and want to ensure they are fair to the new minorities, whites who now are just 9 per cent and African-Americans who make up a modest 1 percent. Close to 80 percent of the city is Latino. In a media interview, Anthony Rendon, the Democratic Assembly speaker had this to say: “There’s a tendency to think that I am only going to focus on certain types of issues, that I am only going to focus on certain types of population.”

The city’s mayor said: “We also have to be sensitive to non-Latino voters. We have a case now when the majority became the minority.’’

And just because all its councillors happen to be Latino hasn’t meant that the city has started to resemble an extension of Mexico City, in fact council has resisted calls to contribute more money to a local Mexican cultural and art center and help fund the center’s annual Día de los Muertos celebration. Now had Santa Ana still had a mostly white council, you can be damn sure that there would be a lot more funding for anything Mexican.

But now that Mexicans are in-charge, no one really wants Santa Ana to be considered anything less than an all-American city. And Latino politicians don’t want to be seen as glorified community leaders representing mostly their own community.

I suspect that when Brampton gets an all-brown council and mayor sometime in the future, there will be less of a desire to make changes that would upset non-brown Bramptonians. Those councillors will be wary of changing the names of streets and buildings.

With power comes great responsibility. Brown councillors will actually not pander to ethnic minorities like white politicians. In fact, I think many residents will miss having a pliant mostly-white council who happily green lights anything in the name of diversity.

And one more thing, residents won’t be lining up to have their pictures taken with politicians that look like them. They will miss posing with the likes of Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown! -CINEWS


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