As a lifelong resident of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area (with the exception of a nine-year "stay" in Los Angeles), I feel I have standing to critique the way we do things. For some time now, I've been troubled by the confusing way we've named our cities.

As a resident of Maple Grove, I frequently come across people who confuse my city with Maplewood. I'm forced to patiently explain that I am northwest of Minneapolis, not northeast of St. Paul. I'm sure people would also confuse Maple Grove with Maple Plain, if anyone actually lived in Maple Plain.

It is perhaps more than coincidental that Shoreview, Spring Lake Park and Mounds View were given names similar to Shorewood, Spring Park and Mound -- three affluent Lake Minnetonka cities. When I lived in Los Angeles, real-estate agents referred to the unincorporated neighborhood next to Beverly Hills as "Beverly Hills Adjacent." The thinking was that the name tie-in resulted in an automatic increase in the property values in the copycat neighborhood.

Still, the operative word was "adjacent." Anyone who mistakenly found themselves in the wrong "Beverly Hills" had only a five-minute drive (20 in traffic) to the other. A Minnesotan who mistakenly finds himself in Shoreview, Spring Lake Park or Mounds View has to traverse half the metro area to get to the corresponding Lake Minnetonka city. Indeed, you can't even see Mound from Mounds View. What sense does that make?

Of course, placing similarly named cities next to each other doesn't eliminate confusion; it only lessens the consequences. Just ask anyone who lives or works in Brooklyn Center or Brooklyn Park. Now I'm sure that, when the settlers came west in covered wagons from the Brooklyn in New York, they wanted a place to call home. But did they really need two cities?

This is not just a suburban problem; it's endemic to our major cities as well. North Minneapolis is actually northwest of downtown; Northeast is north, and Southeast is northeast. On the other hand, south Minneapolis really is south of downtown, which makes absolutely no sense in context.

North St. Paul is northeast of downtown; West St. Paul is south, and South St. Paul is southeast. Strangely enough, Inver Grove Heights and Newport are closer to St. Paul than is St. Paul Park.

Not long ago, the puppet masters who pull the strings in our fair metro commissioned a study of the confusion generated by the Lindbergh and Humphrey airport terminals, and concluded that thousands (or millions or billions) of hours and dollars were being wasted by travelers driving aimlessly between the two heroically named sites. After sufficient vetting and hand-wringing, these visionaries wiped away the confusion by renaming the facilities Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. (Or is it Terminal 2 and Terminal 1? I forget.)

Anyway, the point is, if two dissimilarly named airport terminals a mile apart can cause so much confusion and waste, then how much suffering and cost is caused by people lost between Maple Grove and Maplewood, or Spring Lake Park and Spring Park? The numbers must be staggering.

Shouldn't we appoint a commission to conduct a detailed study of this issue? Shouldn't we hire consultants, hold public hearings and draft renaming legislation? Why all the foot-dragging in the face of this city confusion crisis? You'd think the lobbyists for the signage and stationery industries would be all over it.

Lately, I've been dreaming of the day when people no longer ask me if Maple Grove is "close to downtown St. Paul." On the other hand, if the end result of this process would be a metro area dotted with municipalities named City 1, City 2 and City 3, maybe we should just forget the whole thing.


Gregg J. Cavanagh is in attorney in Maple ... Grove.