Simply Boring

Speaking of boring places, the phenomenon didn’t confine itself exclusively to Oregon. Sure, the largest Boring town existed just outside of Portland. However, because Boring was also a surname, it spread to other locations as one might expect. Residents tended to have the same sense of humor about living in Boring places everywhere. The same bad puns, the same entertainingly-named public institutions and businesses, the same frequently-photographed road signs formed a common bond. The repetition became, well, boring. Fortunately the stories found just below the surface offered better entertainment.

Boring, Maryland

This church is BORING
This church is BORING. Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr (cc)

What Maryland’s Boring lacked in population it gained in recognition through the U.S. Postal Service (map). Boring, Maryland 21020 didn’t have the same cachet as Beverly Hills 90210, although it still existed as a physical place. Other than that, the hamlet consisted primarily of a few homes along the intersection of Old Hanover and Pleasant Grove Roads. The Boring Post Office along with a Boring Fire Hall and a Boring Methodist Church also offered popular photo opportunities to outsiders passing through.

The Washington Post featured a Boring article back in 1984.

The origin of its name is somewhat less boring than the name itself. The town originally was called Fairview, but according to folks hereabouts, when the post office was established in 1880, postal authorities ordered the town renamed, apparently to avoid confusion with all the other Fairviews in the United States. "So it was named by the townspeople after the first postmaster here, David J. Boring, in 1880," explained Cullison, himself a postmaster of Boring from 1950 to 1976.

It served as yet another example of a town changing its name because of the railroads, a common condition in the late 19th Century. We’ve seen that happen many times on Twelve Mile Circle although the results were not usually so Boring.

Boring, Tennessee

Boring, Tennessee

I found very little information about Boring, Tennessee. It registered a level of boring so extreme that nobody bothered to publicize it. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I’m sure people who lived there liked it just fine. It didn’t even make the list of Top 10 most boring places in Tennessee. That honor went to Forest Hills near Nashville. I don’t know why. Maybe Boring’s placement at the end of a runway at Tri-Cities Airport made the difference. Jet traffic wouldn’t be boring; more annoying than anything, really.

The author of Tennessee Place-names pretty much phoned it in when explaining Boring.

Boring Sullivan County. The only individual with the Boring surname who could be placed in this locality was Elizabeth Boring, in 1870. She was 46 years of age at the time. Possibly she, or her family, gave this place its name.

Way to go out on a limb.

King Boring Park and Field

dearborn, mi
dearborn, mi. Photo by Heather Phillips on Flickr (cc)

Honestly I didn’t expect to find anything on King Boring Park. I spotted the name and fell in love with it. What could be better than King Boring? Truly, the King of Boring (let’s pause and savor that for a moment).

A Yelp page, yes a Yelp page of all things, offered an explanation. The great-grandson of King Boring — King Boring was an actual person — provided a fairly complete biography. I assumed a level of accuracy. Who would make up something about an obscure ball field (map) in Dearborn, Michigan? It could be fake. Who knows? Let’s assume it’s real and move along.

Apparently Mr. Boring earned the nickname King as a child after he beat-up a bully. Later he legally changed his actual name to King Boring. He owned a basketball team called the Detroit Gems and later sold it. The new owners moved the team to Minneapolis and changed the name to the Lakers. That team eventually became the Los Angeles Lakers. Right, those Lakers. Boring also coached a Single-A baseball team in Dearborn and participated in lots of other local sports-related stuff. He died in 1996.

I found some corroborating evidence. The Gems played only a single season, posting a 4-40 record before King Boring and his partner sold the team in 1947. Oof! He later lamented that he should have retained a percentage instead of selling it outright.

Boring Homestead, South Australia

Wog Palace Road
Boring Homestead
via Google Maps

Why should the United States get all the boring places? I turned to the Gazetteer of Australian Place Names and found the Boring Homestead in South Australia (map). It sat about 550 kilometres (340 miles) due north of Adelaide. I wouldn’t expect to find any additional information about a single homestead, and I didn’t. However, I noticed the name of the road — a dirt track really — that led to the structure. Google called it Wog Palace Road, which seemed really odd. It seemed even stranger when I checked its etymology. I found an enlightening entry in Global English Slang: Methodologies and Perspectives.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s in Australia wog came to be used to describe migrants of southern European origin, especially those from Italy or Greece. Later, the usage expanded to include migrants of Middle Eastern origin…a wog mansion or wog palace is a large and vulgar house, often using southern European architectural features such as elaborate columns.

The word wog didn’t mean anything to me. However, and apparently, it could be considered offensive in Australia and perhaps even more so in the UK. For that, I apologize in advance, especially to 12MC’s Australian and UK audience. I didn’t mean to be insensitive. A wog palace would be like a McMansion in the United States with an added twist of racial spite thrown in for good measure.

I took an actual screen print of the homestead and street name which I’ve reproduced above. That’s because I expected it will be changed or removed someday. I wondered if that was really its name or if a vandal placed it there as digital graffiti, expecting nobody to find it.

Recent YIMBY

I posted an article called Recent NIMBY just before I left on my Heartland trip. It dealt with the "Not in My Back Yard" phenomenon. People often agreed with development until it came too close to their homes. They didn’t want anything that might negatively affect the value of their properties. Sometimes their arguments seemed justifiable and other times they seemed frivolous. The common thread involved organized, orchestrated efforts to keep something away that might change the character or value of their neighborhood.

The article got a comment suggesting that I should take a look at the opposite phenomenon. I’d heard of it although I didn’t know much about it. The movement took its inspiration from NIMBY with a twist. It went by YIMBY, for "Yes in my Back Yard." YIMBY expressed a frustration with the consequences of NIMBY behavior particularly as it related to housing. Adherents argued that locking-out development came with a social cost. It created acute housing shortages where only the wealthiest people could afford decent places to live. Blue collar workers, young professionals and public servants found few places where they could live while NIMBY forces blocked new housing. Naturally the movement gained the most traction in places like New York City, the Bay Area, Seattle, Vancouver and Toronto; all places with income disparities and rapid gentrification.

I repeated the same exercise I used in the earlier article. This time, however, I searched for recent news articles mentioning YIMBY.

New York City

Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York. Photo by pelcinary on Flickr (cc)

New York City served as the epicenter for the movement. Much of the recent press coverage I found came from a single source, the New York YIMBY website. I could have picked any of a hundred or more contemporary instances so I went with the most recent example from the site.

The city’s Brooklyn borough included a neighborhood called Greenpoint. It formed the northernmost corner of Brooklyn, bordering the East River just across from Manhattan. Greenpoint long served as a working class neighborhood with a large population of Polish immigrants. For decades they worked on the docks at the Port of New York, in local factories, or in mom-and-pop shops serving their immigrant community. However, and in the last decade in particular, Greenpoint began to change. Its proximity to Manhattan attracted a wealthier class of residents who started to displace the original inhabitants.

One of the properties tracked by New York YIMBY recently was 13 Greenpoint Avenue/26 Kent Street, Greenpoint. It would replace an old industrial site and warehouses with an 11-story mixed-use structure. This would provide another 77 housing units to an area desperate for more (map).


The Annex. Photo by Andrzej Wrotek on Flickr (cc)

The Annex area (map) of Toronto, Canada began as a streetcar suburb in the late Nineteenth Century. Eventually Toronto annexed the area into the city, and thus provided a name. Residents of The Annex tended to be better off financially than average, although it also included student areas near the University of Toronto. The Annex started to gentrify in recent years, becoming one of the most desirable communities in the city.

The Toronto Star recounted YIMBY efforts in The Annex recently. It cited "a generation increasingly frustrated by the rising cost of housing that shuts young professionals, less affluent residents and newcomers out of the city’s well-serviced, transit-connected neighbourhoods." They hoped to see denser development, subdivision of large houses into multiple apartments, and family-sized condos. These were things their NIMBY counterparts generally opposed. The story was positioned very much as a generational clash, with Millennials living in cramped apartments with sky-high rents while their Baby Boomer parents "rattling around in near-empty homes."

The clash continues.


TTV-stich - San Judas Flea Market
San Judas Flea Market – Nolensville Pike. Photo by David Antis on Flickr (cc)

I wouldn’t have thought of Nashville, Tennessee as a place with a YIMBY movement. Nonetheless it grappled with housing issues and a lot of recent press attention focused there. Even the mayor got involved.

"We need YIMBY-ism in Nashville, and we need it now," [Mayor] Barry said at her State of Metro address… "It means yes, I want to live in a mixed-income neighborhood… Nashville desperately needs something we can rally behind that says we are not going to let our city be totally gentrified," she says."

The problem could be seen in several areas of Nashville including Nolensville Pike (map). Immigrants flocked to this affordable neighborhood as their initial foothold in the United States. They built businesses along the strip as they assimilated and pursued their dreams. However, as the fortunes of greater Nashville began to improve, rents started rising along Nolensville Pike. While not quite as stark or as urban as some of the other cities with a growing YIMBY presence, the conditions here followed a familiar pattern.

I admitted feeling a sense of déjà vu as I read these articles too. It seemed similar to what I’d seen in my close-in neighborhood just outside of Washington, DC. By pure luck, I found myself on the fortunate side of that equation, in a home I couldn’t possibly afford if I wanted to buy it today. However I had a lot of sympathy for those not so fortunate. I guess I’ve always been more of a YIMBY.

What the Cove?

What does someone call a short street with only a single outlet to a larger street? I wondered because I found different terms that varied geographically. There seemed to be a cultural dimension to it as well. Certain suffixes seemed to be more prevalent in the United Kingdom and others in the United States, with Canada displaying elements of both. I’ve fixated on such suffixes before, notably in What the Drung and What the Stravenue. This time I focused on the humble cul-de-sac.


Sprawling Subdivison in New Jersey
Sprawling Subdivison in New Jersey. Photo by Kaizer Rangwala on Flickr (cc)

Cul-de-sacs didn’t get much respect in recent years. They became a favored symbol of unbridled construction and suburban sprawl. All those dead end streets allowed developers to stuff more homes onto lots at the expense of traffic efficiency. I couldn’t do anything about that — some things were way beyond the abilities of Twelve Mile Circle — although I could examine some etymology. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1738, as an anatomical term, from French cul-de-sac, literally "bottom of a sack," from Latin culus "bottom, backside, fundament." …Application to streets and alleys is from 1800.

I guess it made sense. The cluster of homes at the end of a road resembled the bottom of a sack. Cars going into the sac could only exit the same way. No other choices existed. Actually I didn’t intend to beat up on the Cul-de-sac (or any generic dead-end street) as a design element. The point today was to examine the designation of such roads, specifically the suffixes appended to them.


Wheat Sheaf Cl., Isle of Dogs, London

I got started on this unfortunate idea when I examined the Isle of Dogs in the recent Random Islands article. I noticed a street with an odd suffix; Wheat Sheaf Close. Nearby I soon spotted Inglewood Close, Severnake Close and Epping Close. Was this a common thing, I wondered? Were little dead-end streets in the United Kingdom sometimes referred to as Closes? It seemed to be the case as I checked various random corners of the British Isles. Twelve Mile Circle’s loyal UK readers should be able to confirm its usage and frequency if that’s the case.

They existed in Canada too. Canada Post included Close as an acceptable suffix. However it did not offer an abbreviation for it. The UK specified "Cl." In London’s Isle of Dogs someone could write a letter to Wheat Sheaf Cl and that would be acceptable. Head to Medicine Hat, Alberta, on the other hand, and the address should include the entire word, as in Smith Close SE. New Zealand also used the abbreviated form in its address system although I couldn’t find any real-world examples. I couldn’t find any information about Australia, though. Any Closes in Australia, dear readers? Conversely, the United States Postal Service didn’t even include Close amongst its recognized suffixes.

Nonetheless the suffix made perfect sense. The roads indeed closed at one end.


Coves in Memphis, Tennessee

The US Postal Service did include something more unusual however, the suffix Cove. It referred to the same thing, a short road with a dead-end or a cul-de-sac. I suspected the usage must have been sporadic, geographically confined, or both. I’d never personally seen a street with a Cove suffix. Even so, the USPS reserved the abbreviation "CV", so it obviously existed with at least some level of frequency. Wikipedia referenced the suffix and singled-out Memphis, Tennessee. Naturally I needed to find a Cove in Memphis. I plugged common street names into a map randomly until Ash Cove appeared, as did several others nearby. I didn’t know why Wikipedia singled-out Memphis though. Other coves appeared in in Arkansas, Mississippi and Arizona before I got tired of looking for more.

I wish this suffix got greater use. I liked the image it evoked.

Lulworth cove
Lulworth cove. Photo by Alex on Flickr (cc)

A cul-de-sac resembled a perfectly formed cove, like Lulworth Cove (map) along the coast of Dorset, England. A cove offered refuge and safety, a nice analogy for a quiet suburban home away from traffic.


Just What Is This Street Sign Trying To Convey?
Just What Is This Street Sign Trying To Convey?
Photo by raider3_anime on Flickr (cc)

I was most familiar with the use of Court as a suffix. I wondered if that sounded weird in other places, like Close and Cove sounded to me. Actually Court seemed so normal to me that I never even considered other possibilities until I stumbled upon Close. That, of course, made me wonder why someone chose Court as a suffix for a street with a cul-de-sac or a dead end. The etymology supported it, though. It derived from Old French via Latin, for an "enclosed yard." Over time it came to applied to various enclosures, e.g., royalty (king’s court), government entities (court of law), or sports (tennis, basketball, etc.). A street closed at one end, using the same logic, could also be a Court.

I enjoyed the photo I found to represent the concept. Aspirations Court featured a Dead End marker — where aspirations went to die, perhaps? What were the sign makers in Modesto, California (map) thinking?