Phoenix To Consider Renaming Streets To 'Reflect Our Values'

By  Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 6:59am
Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 9:34am

Robert E. Lee Street runs about five miles in northeast Phoenix.
(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)

Later this month, Phoenix leaders are expected to discuss changing street names, specifically two names that some people find offensive: Robert E. Lee Street and Squaw Peak Drive.

Robert E. Lee Street

Not far from busy Union Hills Drive and Tatum Boulevard is a quiet residential area where Ivan Milosavljevic has lived for nearly 17 years.

“The street that I live on is Robert E. Lee Street,” he said. 

Milosavljevic and his parents came here from Serbia when he was 6 years old. They moved into the house on Robert E. Lee Street when he was 8.

“They’re not nearly as sentimental about it as I am because I grew up with it,” he said. “I got a little bit emotional about it when I heard about the name change. I was like, well, I’ve lived here for so long and I kinda hold some value to this house and you know it’s where all my memories are.”

Milosavljevic said his attachment to the street should not be seen as a show of support for the Confederacy. To him, it’s a name he grew up with.

But, Councilwoman Kate Gallego agrees with a push by Mayor Greg Stanton to change the name.  

“We have people in our community who find Robert E. Lee’s name celebrates slavery and we have to take that seriously,” she said. “We want to have street names that reflect our values and, in today’s world, there are some very serious conversations about those issues. The city should not shirk our responsibility to have those conversations.”  

City records show the street, which runs about five miles from 40th to 52nd Streets, was named after the Confederate general in 1961. The subdivision plat was first adopted by the county and later annexed by the city in 1988.

Squaw Peak Drive

Squaw Peak Drive is about one mile long and leads to what used to be called Squaw Peak until then-Governor Janet Napolitano pushed for it to be renamed in honor of Lori Piestewa.

A member of the Hopi tribe, Piestewa, grew up in Tuba City, Arizona. In 2003 she was killed during an ambush in Iraq. The Army said Piestewa was the first American Indian woman to die in combat on foreign soil.

Some people consider the word ‘squaw’ to be offensive. They say it’s a derogatory word for Native American women. Although the state changed Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak, city officials did not change the street name which runs from Lincoln Drive and 22nd Street to the surface parking lot at the Piestewa Peak Summit Trail.

It hasn’t always been Squaw Peak Drive, though. According to city records, the original name was Flynn Lane and it was changed in 1964.

“Normally when people use terms that are offensive to a certain gender, we step up and act and we ought to have the tools to be able to do that here,” Gallego said.

Milosavljevic said changing his Robert E. Lee Street address would not only be inconvenient, but costly for the family’s custom crafted metal shop. 

“To change all the letterhead, business cards, that sort of thing,” he explained.

The only other councilmember to respond to KJZZ’s request for comment was Deb Stark. She wrote:

"This is a complicated issue. Of course, we want Phoenix to be inclusive and respectful to all. However, before deciding on changing our street naming policy, I need to understand the exact costs for the residents and businesses that reside along the streets as well as any costs that would be incurred by the city. I would also like to see if we can schedule some meetings with everyone interested to ensure that all voices are heard. Public outreach and discussion are so important before a major decision like this is made."

Current policy calls for 75 percent of homeowners to agree to a name change and does not specify a process to address whether a name is offensive. Gallego said staff will be asked to develop a policy for offensive street names, potentially allowing the council to change any names it deems offensive or derogatory. The council is expected to discuss the issue on June 27.

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