When you walk though your neighbourhood, do you ever wonder how the streets got their names? I don’t mean numbered streets or streets that are named after trees, but the ones that contain a person’s first or last name. I hadn’t thought about this until I happened to go on a historical walking tour a few years ago. When our guide told us the stories of our town’s founders and the people after whom the streets were named, I thought it was fascinating. I couldn’t believe that I had walked or driven on these streets so many times over the years not thought about the people behind the names. Now that I know the name origins and a little bit of my town’s history, my neighbourhood seems to have gained a new life and vibrancy. There are suddenly people and stories all around me.
I was in Orangeville recently, and I noticed something there that I thought was just outstanding. Mounted below some of the street signs is a second sign that explains the origin of the name, along with a little bit of the town’s history. This is such a wonderful idea – why base a town’s history on a “pull” model (people have to request the information) when you can implement a subtle “push” strategy (you send the information to people automatically)? Orangeville’s residents can learn a little about their town’s history simply by walking through their neighbourhood.
I was so impressed with this initiative that I spent an hour or so walking around, and taking pictures at a number of intersections.
While I generally have little use for QR Codes, this could be another practical use for them. Add a QR Code to street signs (or to the signposts at eye level, if your smartphone’s camera can’t get an accurate scan). Scanning the QR Code will display a web page with additional historical details of the immediate area and the people who settled there.
This is my call to action for other towns, large and small: I think that Orangeville’s is doing an outstanding job of educating both residents and visitors alike, without making it seem like learning. Encourage your city councillors to do this in your town, and follow Orangeville’s example. Why should street signs display only the name of the street, when they can also be used to teach us some history?