Milwauekee Journal Sentinel

December 2 , 2006

The namegame

Easy Street gives way to Misty Mountain Parkway as developers try to evoke unique, idyllic settings

By Brandon Lorenz

Waukesha - Blake Nelson likes living on Easy Street.

Homes in the quiet, 80-year-old wooded neighborhood are more affordable than many in newer subdivisions throughout the city. This fall, houses near Easy Street have sold for $211,000 and $219,000. And Nelson's 1,400-square-foot bungalow is situated not far from I-94 and downtown Waukesha.

Some other southeastern Wisconsin communities have Easy streets. Those streets, and a few others imaginatively named, are - well, easy to remember.

"If I'm at a hotel or something checking in and people ask me what my address is, I always get a chuckle out of it," Nelson says.

For residents, naming is a matter of taste. For real estate developers, deciding on a street name is business.

"Naming is extremely important. It sets the tone, from street names to product names," says Steve Manning, managing director for branding company Igor International of San Francisco.

Whether their subdivisions are in Pewaukee, New Berlin or Waukesha, developers usually try to evoke the same sort of image: pristine and semi-rustic. That explains the abundance of tree, bird and body-of-water references, says Manning.

Quirky juxtapositions aren't unheard of - Paradise and Wall streets are not far from Waukesha's Easy Street - but in an era of brand-driven naming, they're becoming exceptions.

"The developers are trying to sell their property, so they come up with names that they think will sell it," says Michael Hoeft, Waukesha City Planner.

The result is a lot of bucolic, but bland street names.

And so Brookfield has Vista View Drive, where the view begins with a bustling Greenfield Ave. New Berlin's Forest Point Blvd. borders a retail development and I-43.

"After years and years of it, you just don't notice it after a while," says Manning.
Municipal work

Developers don't have a completely free hand in street naming. City staffers in Pewaukee follow common protocol in reviewing the names in subdivisions to make sure there aren't similar names nearby that could slow emergency responders, City Engineer Jeff Weigel said.

Still, few names are rejected. East Parkway Meadow Circle was allowed in the City of Pewaukee, but it is so long that special street signs had to be ordered at extra expense. It's an experiment that won't be repeated, Weigel said.

A catchy name alone won't assure a developer a place on Easy Street. But it can add some extra marketing push. The Shire in Brookfield, for example, was a controversial development when approved by the city in March 2004.

Neighbors around the 25-lot subdivision fought the plan, saying that building houses around the Brookfield Landfill could damage their homes and a nearby forest. The landfill is a former Superfund cleanup site, a federally designated cleanup site that contains hazardous waste.

Developer Joseph Niebler downplayed the objections, saying the properties had city water and sewer and that the neighbors were more upset about losing access to vacant forestland.
'Lord of the Rings' touch

Niebler, an avid J.R.R. Tolkien fan, drew the name "The Shire" from Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings." With street names also drawn from the novel - Arwyn Way, Rivendell Drive and Misty Mountain Parkway - the names evoke an idyllic country setting, not a development surrounding a former landfill site.

Most of the lots, some of which are less than 1 acre and priced about $300,000, have sold, Niebler says; the houses being built on them will cost about $1 million.

Most developers prefer to avoid the risk of an unusual name, Manning says.

The tendency is to think too literally and become timid, fearing that an unconventional name might cause offense.

"You hardly see anything with a sense of humor or anything different anymore," he says.

Nelson, who is selling his bungalow on Easy Street in Waukesha, found out accidentally how hard it is to pick a memorable and unique street name. Once his house is sold, he's looking at a condominium in Delafield - on Easy Street.

"I didn't even know there was another Easy Street around here," Nelson says.