Cities hold powerful sway over those who live there, so parsing the cultural values entrenched in street names has become a scholarly focus.
According to a recent report led by a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, “Quantifying a society’s value system is important because it suggests what people deeply care about - it reflects who they actually are and, more importantly, who they will like to be.”
Those researchers had a novel idea: to map values by studying street names, which were designated in honor of a city’s most celebrated people. The team chose four places with an abundance of history, each of which shaped the Western world: Paris, Vienna, London, and New York. They used artificial intelligence to identify nearly 5,000 honorific streets across the cities, and then - in an analysis of what they dubbed “streetonomics” - they evaluated each city’s gender bias, the professions viewed as most elite, the most-lauded era in its history, and its openness to honoring foreigners.
The research threw up some very interesting findings, including:
Paris showed the highest gender bias, with just 4% of streets named after a woman
Vienna showed the most gender equality, with 54% of streets named after women
Vienna was also most open to celebrating those outside its borders, with 45% of its streets named after foreigners
London showed the second-most gender equality, with 40% of streets named after women
Only 14.6% of London streets were named after foreigners, a distant second to Vienna’s 45% share (New York was just 3.2%)
New York showed the second-highest gender bias with just 26% of streets named after women
Most streets in Paris were named after people from the 1860s, which was when Napoleon III remade the city into the capital of an empire, whereas in Vienna most honorees lived in the 1900s, when the city was rebuilt after the devastation of World War I
In London, streets primarily celebrated the British royal family, politicians, and military members; and most lived during the 1700s and 1800s, when the city underwent the Great Fire that gutted the city, and subsequently flourished during King George III’s rule
In New York, most were named after figures in business or civil service, and those honorees mostly inhabited recent history, from the 1950s to the 2000s