Does the name of your street affect your property values? That's the question posed by Freakonomics blog co-author Steven D. Levitt here, with a follow-up post here. A couple of real estate agents in Austin, Texas, got the ball rolling last year with a blog post that asked whether "a politically incorrect street name" might have an impact; they cited "Shoot Out," "Gun Fight," and "Ammunition"--all actual street names in their fair city. (The real estate agents also referred to these street names as "overtly western," which I find overly charitable.) Their answer: a tentative "yes," although they also noted that the houses on un-PC streets were smaller, in square footage, than the control group.
Now the Edmonton Journal reports on a study performed by a Canadian professor, Murtaza Haider, who apparently teaches in the Department of Obvious Conclusions. "People attach values (to addresses) and pay a premium," said Haider. "When Ryerson [University, in Toronto] markets its business program, it says 'MBA on Bay.' The reason is that they want to capture the prestige associated with finance on Bay Street in Canada. But there isn't even an entrance to the building on Bay Street. You enter from Dundas."
In the Toronto example, the street name itself doesn't confer prestige: Bay Street, like Wall Street in New York, has become synonymous with a certain activity, and anyone who wants the halo effect positions himself accordingly. The cachet associated with the street name is entirely dependent on context; a visitor from Mars might be disappointed that Wall Street has only tall buildings and no Great Wall of Manhattan.
A local case in point: Sand Hill Road, in Menlo Park, is synonomous with Silicon Valley enterprise and venture capital; during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, commercial property on that otherwise featureless street was more expensive than real estate anywhere else in the world. And yet ... Sand Hill hardly sounds solid or substantial, does it? (Of course, neither was the dot-com boom.)
My favorite story about street names comes from that astute cultural critic Chris Rock. In the 1980s, many American cities chose to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., by renaming a major thoroughfare after him. Inevitably, that street ran through what used to be called "the ghetto" and is now (often erroneously) called "the inner city." In his standup routine, Rock used to tell it like this:
If a friend calls you on the telephone and says they're lost on Martin Luther King Boulevard and they want to know what they should do, the best response is "Run!"
More fun with street names over at Wordmall, where Michael Sheehan muses on Divorce Court (in Pittston, PA), Skunk's Misery Road (Long Island, NY), and a private street in Traverse City, MI, called Psycho Path.