When BBVA moved its financial city to Las Tablas, in the northern district of Fuencarral-El Pardo, the absolute majority of the Popular Party in Madrid City Council carried out in record time the “suggestion” of the director of the complex to change the name of the street where the imposing headquarters is located. In this way, the then Fresneda Street was changed to Azul Street, the bank’s flagship color and, why not, also of the conservative formation.
“It refers, I am not going to deceive you, to the corporate color of the bank”, recognized the popular councilor of the district, José Antonio González, in the Plenary of the Board, according to the newspaper Las Tablas Digital. In his speech, González insisted that the change in the street map was not related to the fact that BBVA had fully financed the pedestrian walkway that connected Las Tablas with the neighboring Sanchinarro neighborhood.
Just three kilometers from BBVA’s headquarters, District C had been built in 2008, which three years later modified C for Communications – similar to the nearest metro stop, Ronda de Comunicaciones – to be renamed District Telefónica. At the same time, but at the other end of Madrid, Boadilla del Monte, Santander bank’s Financial City launched the expansion of the light rail with the Cantabria station.
“The image and mental map of a neighborhood or a street is associated with stigmas and ideas, which are organized and remembered through particular elements of the landscape, which are sometimes also names,” explains David Rus, architect to elDiario.es and urban planner, quoting the American Kevin Lynch in ‘The image of the city’.
The name of the streets determines their economy and symbolic value, adds Daniel Oto-Peralías, professor of Economics at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville. Not only the recent Historical Memory Law disputes the meanings of public roads, there are also other factors motivated by socioeconomic aspects. And examples abound throughout the national territory.
The current municipality of Soto del Real did not acquire that name until 1959, after centuries of effort on the part of the residents, who considered that Las Chozas, its historical place name, was “derogatory and inappropriate to its history and its urban development”, it states in a document City Hall. Currently the town is in the highest ranges of income level in Spain.
It is not so much what the new name symbolizes as what you want to erase with the change
It is difficult to analyze the economic effect that a name change can have on a street, because many other factors come into play that are almost impossible to isolate, says Oto-Peralías, who recognizes that certain place names can contribute to gentrification processes. “It is not so much what the new name symbolizes as what is to be erased with the change,” he says.
Thus, the northern area of Alcorcón where the mammoth Eurovegas project tried to materialize is known, as long as the locals have memories, as Venta La Rubia or Ventorro El Cano. However, when the city council showed the expansive urbanization plans, this area was listed as Ensanche Norte, recalls Rus.
Also on a plan, one of the first drafts of the Chamartín Plan contemplated the expansion of Paseo de la Castellana on its northern slope, which meant modifying the junction of the M30 roads, located near Hospital La Paz and making it practically adjoin the Fuencarral neighborhood. “It would be strange if some small and popular streets appeared La Castellana next door. It was a topic of debate. There were proposals because, although it was more difficult to carry out, La Castellana sells ”, Rus sentence. Something similar happens with the eleven kilometers and more than 600 numbers of Alcalá street, the longest artery in the capital.
Names often become brands, and the symbolic value revalues areas such as Madrid’s Malasaña neighborhood. “You find that bordering streets that before were not identified with Malasaña now yes, because it has become fashionable,” says Rus. The area, which used to have Fuencarral Street as its southern border, “now practically borders Chueca,” the expert continues. To take advantage of the pull, the adjacent streets add to the same aesthetic and identity.
Although with a very different culture and urbanism, this revaluation through the nomenclature also finds examples on the other side of the pond. The first project that managed to paralyze the activist and self-taught urban planner Jane Jacobs was precisely the extension of Fifth Avenue, with which the authorities in 1935 tried to cross the Washington Square park, explains Álvaro Ardura, urban architect and author of the book ‘First we take Manhattan ‘.
And we have to go back to the 19th century, to the construction of the network of roads identified by numbers that today make up Manhattan, to find perhaps the first discussions around the names. Several large owners “asked the city to change the name of the numbered avenues to acquire symbolic capital and increase the value of the property,” it states a document from the University of Texas.
In the famous hills hollywood, a real estate developer wanted in 2017 to change the name of a street to match the price of homes to its millionaire neighbors. All the streets in the area had bird names, so he asked for the change from Pinto Place to Hummingbird Place, hummingbird.
Names of birds or plants are usually common in newly built urbanism, Rus observes, places with less history where there is no roots that offer resistance either to a name change or to the choice of a place name that tries to move away from a cultural or historical content. This is one of the reasons why urbanizations on the outskirts of Madrid are baptized with titles that evoke the wild such as La Finca or Los Rosales. “Green is associated with status, it is about launching a message of ‘Find the green oasis in the middle of the wild city'”, Rus considers.
Thus, the architect and urban planner draws up a scheme, he warns, simplified from reality but representative: “The middle classes live in PAU (Urban Action Programs) and extensions. The rich live in streets with names of vegetables and the lower classes have stayed in the old areas or in the center, with historical names whose meaning in many cases has already been forgotten “.