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What’s in a name? Plenty, Edina finds

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA
  • Star Tribune
  • September 9, 2012 - 5:59 PM

Penny Reed's Edina neighborhood is quiet and leafy. But until now, it never had a name. Reed simply told people who asked that she lived in the nook of land that is south of the Crosstown and west of Hwy. 100.

So what did she think about a proposal to call the neighborhood "Normandale?"

"Sounds like Bloomington," Reed said last week. "It just doesn't make sense."

As Edina divides the city into neighborhoods, it's finding that it isn't always easy to settle on neighborhood names. City officials hope that dividing the city into formal neighborhoods will encourage residents to form neighborhood associations, much as they do in St. Louis Park and Minneapolis. That should make it easier to communicate with residents about intensely local concerns.

While city officials say setting boundaries for neighborhoods has been the most challenging issue, naming the 42 areas on the map has perhaps been the more creative part of the job.

The City Council, which is expected to approve a neighborhood plan in January, recognized the emotions connected to the issue by saying that even after boundaries are set, neighborhoods will have some time to propose a new name if they don't like the one they have.

Assistant City Manager Karen Kurt, who is leading the project, has a straightforward standard for names: They should provide a point of reference, and the community should identify with them.

That wasn't a problem in Morningside, which was once a village, Country Club, which is a historic district, and Centennial Lakes. Other areas had ties to dominant geographic markers such as schools and parks: Highlands, Edinborough, Chowen, Pamela, Arden, Cornelia and others.

But what about the areas without landmarks? How to describe a place, a feeling, an identity, a neighborhood?

On a city website that invited residents to respond to proposed names, one man wrote that Valley Vista and Edina Valley Estates sounded "pretentious." (Both have since been dropped; the area is now called Creek Valley.) Another resident hinted that she'd like names that had the charm of those in St. Louis Park and Minneapolis.

And then there was Reed, responding to the suggested name "Normandale."

"Seriously?" she wrote. "You have Valleys, Heights, Hills, Knolls, Creeks, etc. but this section is just 'Normandale.' Have you checked the elevation here?"

Reed is happier with the latest suggestion of Normandale Park, which she said at least has a geographic tie to the local park. But she is bothered that a defining feature in her neighborhood -- the hills -- aren't acknowledged in the name.

"We are higher up," she said. "We're more than just the 'Normandale.'"

No more South Harriet Park?

Hope Melton, chair of the city's Neighborhood Identification Steering Committee, said she hoped that names had "a personality, a character. Once you get that, it's a self-reinforcing thing. Neighborhoods get personalities over time."

Naming was a bit easier in the east half of the city, where neighborhoods such as White Oaks have long histories and others have major features such as Southdale or the Promenade. Some names were linked to the themes in street names, like Indian Hills, where streets bear the names of tribes, and Highlands, where many roads have Scottish names.

Bruce Carlson, a Highlands resident who concentrated on defining neighborhoods in the city's northwest corner, said he isn't sure about Presidents, where the streets bear the names of U.S. leaders.

"We have struggled with that a bit, do people identify with that?" he asked.

Edina East, which one resident criticized for its generic sound, was dropped when the committee decided it didn't want any neighborhood names to start with the name of the city.

South Harriet Park, a hot real estate spot in the city's northeast quadrant where teardowns are common, isn't on the map. Although the name is freely used, especially by real estate agents, no one agrees on exactly where it is, Carlson said. On the map, the two neighborhoods in the area are called Arden Park and Minnehaha Woods.

One name gets booted

Then there is Richmond Hills. Berge Hansen, who has lived in that area in the center of the city for 44 years, was not impressed when he saw the name on a draft map on the city's website.

"I don't know where they came up with that," he said. "I never heard of Richmond Hills."

Richmond Hills apparently is the name of the original subdivision. Another reason the name fell flat was because residents first heard it in connection with unpopular street assessments that originally topped $16,000 per property.

Now the area's proposed name is Melody Lake, which is the name of a pond and park.

"That is fine," Hansen said. "That was one of my original suggestions."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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