Saturday, April 13, 2019

Still Life with Robin: Name That Shelter!

Help the District name the Ward 3Short-term Family Housing building
by Peggy Robin

The two DC agencies that are building and will be running the new shelter for homeless families in Ward 3 have asked the public to suggest names for the facility. Oh, is this a dangerous little game! Anytime people are solicited to name something via the internet, mischief is afoot. That was most famously illustrated in 2016 when the British public was invited to come up with the name of a research vessel, and the winner was – I’m not making this up! – Boaty McBoatface!

When NASA asked for the public’s help in naming a new wing of the International Space Station, late-night TV comic Stephen Colbert whipped up enough support to make his own name the winner. (NASA declined to honor the results of the poll but put Colbert’s name on a space treadmill instead.)

More misadventures in public naming contests can be found in this enlightening article by Aja Romano of Vox:

I can only imagine what the residents of Ward 3 can cook up if given enough time to organize a snark vote. How about one of these:

1. Following on the Boaty McBoatface model – Shelty McShelter

2. Or maybe, The Nimby? Or its reverse: In a nod to those in the community who actively supported building the shelter on its present site – The Yimby. That would be a more welcoming name, for sure.

3. How about a name that gives a nod to the Second District police for giving up their convenient surface parking lot? Let’s call it “Former Site of Police Parking”, which can become the acronym, FORSIPP Place.

4. Here’s my final effort: Given the Idaho Avenue location, and thinking of how many off-the-grid survivalists have been known to hole up in cabins in the remote parts of that state, and then considering the common PR practice of loading on several names to a residential building to make it sound fancy (as the developers of nearby McLean Gardens did when they came up with the “Village Tower at McLean Gardens” and “Vaughan Place at McLean Gardens” – I propose: “The Hideaway Cabins of Idaho Towers.”

Of course, we could always wait – as someone on the listserv respectfully and soberly suggested – until the residents are in the building and then ask THEM to come up with a name for their current housing.

But if we stick with the DHS/DGS naming plan, perhaps we will end up with a solid – though perhaps a little dull – but dignified name. That’s been the outcome when this naming process was followed in other wards. The Ward 4 facility has been named The Kennedy"; Ward 7's is now "The Horizon," and Ward 8's is called "The Triumph."

In that spirit, let me put forward one last (and not joking) offering: Call it The Shackleton – in tribute to the late Polly Shackleton, who was the original Ward 3 council member on our first city council formed under home rule. Shackleton also happens to be the name of the intrepid Antarctic explorer, whose ship the Endurance broke up in the ice of the Weddell sea in 1915 but who managed over the course of the next 19 months, by great seamanship, leadership, and courage, to bring all of his crew to safety. The name Shackleton, therefore, is also fitting for a place that offers hope of a happy outcome to those in a precarious situation.

To send in your own suggestion for the name of the Ward 3 facility, go to:

Whatever name is selected by the voting public, I see that DHS has reserved for itself the ultimate choice. So snark away all you like -- there will be no Shelty McShelter Building of Ward 3!

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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