Debates over street names can be a bellwether for a culture's underlying attitudes, says Mask. In her book, she explores the politics and perceptions surrounding a common street title in her home country: Martin Luther King, whose name can be found on nearly 900 addresses in the US. "It can actually tell you a lot about race in America", she says. Road signs carrying the name of the civil rights activist are often vandalised. And there remain negative perceptions about the communities living and working on these streets.
"The comedian Chris Rock once joked that if you find yourself on Martin Luther King street, then run, because these are dangerous places," says Mask. "Now that's not always true, and in fact, some studies have found that MLK streets aren't necessarily poorer than other ones – Main streets or JFK streets – but they're different. They have more churches and more schools, for example."
Sadly, Martin Luther King's name on an address influences how some people see the commerce and community there, no matter how safe and liveable the neighbourhood is. "Because they're so connected with blackness, people see them as bad, even if they aren't really bad," says Mask.
Whether you like it or not, the name of the street you live on matters. In 2015, research by the real estate company Zillow found that houses on named streets in the US are often worth more than numbered streets – and in the case of Los Angeles or San Francisco, by more than 20%. Properties on streets with less common names also tend to be more valuable: one of the lowest value addresses to live on is Main Street.
So, in the 21st Century, might it be time to reconsider street names? Given all the controversy they attract and the unequal historical power dynamics they reflect, might we look to other approaches? After all, digital technology allows for it.
Mask points out that there are already alternatives – what3words, for instance, a proprietary system that assigns a random string of words to a location. For example, to find the entrance to BBC's Broadcasting House in London, you don't need its street name, you could just plot a route to "daring.begins.these" (or the less glamorously-named adjacent spots, "jumps.slugs.bulbs" or "fried.dairy.worker").
But while Mask acknowledges that digital addresses would bypass the controversies, she wouldn't replace the conventions we have. "People don’t always unite around street names… But I like the arguments. Arguments are what divide communities, but they are also what constitutes them as communities.”
So, the next time you walk around your neighbourhood or city, take a closer look at the street signs you see – they might tell you a lot more about where you live than you might realise.
* Richard Fisher is a senior journalist for BBC Future. Twitter: @rifish.
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