Mapping female versus male street names

A lot of things are named after famous people: theories, cars, diseases, food and of course, streets. Martin Luther King alone has more than nine hundred streets named after him everywhere in the United States. Then there are several streets named after presidents like George Washington, scientists like Isaac Newton, and other historical personalities.

But there’s a burning problem with how streets get named: few memorialize women. A new interactive map from Mapbox developer Aruna Sankaranarayanan and her partners shows just how rare female streets are in major cities around the world.

Scientists mapped seven cities: London, Paris, San Francisco, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore. They discovered that, on average, only 27.5 percent of the reviewed streets had female names. The contrast within each city, when mapped, was visually stunning – with blue lines (symbolizing male street names) far outnumbering pink ones (designating streets named for women).

The gender gap made titles in August when a feminist group in Paris renamed 60 streets in honor of women. They were opposing the fact that only 2.6 percent of the city’s streets were named after famous female personalities. Many of the 166 women honored in Paris were wives and daughters of famous men.

The lack of female street names isn’t unique to France. In 2012, a geography teacher in Rome painstakingly tracked the history of the city’s 16,500-plus streets and found only 580 streets – a small 3.5 percent – named after women. It’s because “men made history”.

For the new maps, Sankaranarayanan says it all began with a tweet from Genderlog, a crowd-sourced website that focuses on gender problems.

That got her and her partners, questioning about the gender inequality among street names. They used crowd-sourced data from OpenStreetMap and plugged many street names into NamSor, a name identification software that pulls knowledge from a name and predicts its associated gender.

For instance, based on a sample of nearly nine thousand names in the United States, the software predicted San Francisco’s McAllister Street, named after American lawyer Matthew Hall McAllister, as male and Octavia Street, named after a woman known as the sister of a politician, as female.

The project’s main aim is to reveal the uneven distribution of gendered street names, but Sankaranarayanan believes the maps might spark more actions like the ones in Paris.

Blue roads named after men, pink roads named after women

London

London

Paris

Paris

San Francisco

San Francisco

Bengaluru

Bengaluru

Chennai

Chennai

Mumbai

Mumbai

New Delhi

New Delhi

“Places and streets named after personalities are indicators of social
hierarchy in a city. Often they are as prestigious as the person they
are named after. We wanted to study the distribution and location of
gender in eponymous streets and made a map!

We looked at the number of roads named after women versus men and
their geographical distribution using OpenStreetMap data. To run the
analysis we put together a light script using Turf.js and Tile Reduce and queried OSM QA Tiles.

After filtering tokens like national highways (NH), state highways (SH), crosses, mains, margs, and salais we sent the names to NamSor – a robust API for applied onomastics.

The results are fascinating, and maybe not surprising: streets named
after men are more numerous and more centrally located than streets
named after women in the metro areas we analyzed. Between Bengaluru,
Chennai, London, Mumbai, New Delhi, Paris, and San Francisco, the
percentage of streets named after women is an average of 27.5. Among the
cities in India, Bengaluru tops the list with 39% of streets named
after women.

We’re still working hard to perfect the code and are taking requests for more cities on Twitter. Take a look below to see what we have so far and let us know what else you would like to see!”

Via mapbox.com & citylab.com

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