SEPTA has a proposal on the table to rename its Broad Street Station to AT&T station, along with Detroit’s plan to corporate sell a name for its street car. Yonah Freemark remarks:
But Philadelphia’s decision could be going further because not only does it remove the current name entirely from maps, but it does so to existing stations that have retained their current names for decades. Even worse, the names have no relevance to the areas they serve — it’s not like AT&T has a major facility at Pattison Station. The whole situation raises the frightening prospect in the near future that, instead of riding the Broad Street Subway from City Hall to Pattison, people will take the Coca-Cola Trolley from Pizza Hut to AT&T. Moreover, five years later, considering the current rate of changes in corporate names and sponsorships, all of those names may have to be modified! There are two fundamental problems with the idea that station names can be sold to the highest bidder: One, doing so challenges a fundamental element of transit service provision, that it is a public service; and two, that the names provide an important connection between the line-based geography of transit systems and the street or neighborhood-based geography of the city around stations.
I don’t really have much to add to Freemark’s discussion other than expand it on this somewhat. He notes that it is confusing to riders and tourists to have to deal with an “AT&T station” in every city they encounter. But it’s also depressing. You get to a point where the built environment of cities gets so homogenized with corporate clutter than it doesn’t matter if you are in Boston or in New York or Shanghai: you’ll see the same brands all over. So instead of Candlestick, we have AT&T park, and instead of naming schools after luminary scholars, we name them after rich people who aren’t satisfied with having their companies and foundations named after them.
I wonder if anybody will ever give a naming gift for a bus seat?