Sacred Bus Stops
Katy Steinmetz’s latest column is, as you would expect, thought-provoking. The topic: corporations buying naming rights to New York subway stops. I don’t quite understand all the indignation. Buses already have ads on them, and this seems like an extension of the same idea.
Steinmetz says it’s a slippery slope:
[T]he sale of this subway station seems to be a harbinger of more distressing and confusing sales to come. Another commenter satirically encapsulated this worry in “Modern Subway Directions”: “Get on at McDonalds and go five stops to Starbucks. Transfer to the Walmart and continue on to Staples.” And if subway stops are for sale, why not streets? If streets are for sale, why not whole towns? Will Missourian legislators be someday casting votes in Microsoft City?
Let’s not get so attached to the names of our streets and bus stops. Even without corporate sponsors, these names can change. In cases where a street retains its name for decades, people usually forget the original significance anyway. The only problem I can imagine with saying, “Get off at Staples,” is that passengers could be confused whether they should look for a Staples store or a stop named Staples. The ambiguity would diminish as people get used to the new names. Some people were confused when St. Louis Bread Company became Panera, too, but they survived.
Things get murkier when the advertisers aren’t harmless office supply stores. What if, instead of cleaning up trash on a highway, the National Socialist Movement decided to sponsor a bus stop instead? While most drivers overlook the “Adopt-a-Highway” signs, bus stops get more attention. Would we have to rename the neighboring stops to get back at the neo-Nazis?
Such issues regarding advertising in public spaces will need to be sorted out — if only because we can’t name everything after a dead president or a British province.