How Los Angeles Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The divide between the different neighborhoods of Los Angeles can feel like one between cities, and in some cases—like West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Culver City—it literally is. But residents of L.A. really do place stock in the neighborhood they live in, whether it be on the Westside or Eastside, downtown or nestled in the hills.

L.A. is a big place—the Los Angeles TimesMapping L.A. project has 272 neighborhoods in the city. Outlining the origin of all their names would be a project worthy of a large research university. In order to make this both manageable and comprehensible, I stuck to the neighborhoods and cities within a few areas of the Times’ map: the Westside, South L.A., Central L.A., Southeast, Eastside, and Northeast L.A. This leaves out the many valleys and mountains and bays that make Los Angeles County so sprawling, but it also hits most of the places you’d think of as L.A. proper. I also didn’t explain all of the many variations on Beverly, Hollywood, and some others, as well as many hyphenates and neighborhoods named after streets.

Apologies in advance to all those excluded. You’re still great.

Artesia

Wikimedia Commons

Artesia was named for the area’s large number of Artesian wells, which are stored pockets of groundwater that sometimes flow to the surface. Because of the wells, Artesia eventually became a major dairy district in the early 1900s.

Atwater Village

This land was owned by the family of Harriet Atwater Paramore when it was subdivided in 1912, hence the name.

Baldwin Park

The legend behind Baldwin Park’s name is a weird one. According to the city’s website, a man named “Lucky” Baldwin wanted to start a town nearby called “Baldwinville.” At the time, Baldwin Park was known as Vineland, and they invited Lucky Baldwin to a town meeting to discuss the idea. As he entered, the over-80-year-old Baldwin fell, but one of the town’s residents caught and saved him. Out of gratitude, he decided not to start Baldwinville, and Vineland took on the name Baldwin Park.

Bel Air

Immortalized by The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the wealthy neighborhood was named by the wife of rancher Alphonso Bell, who founded the community in 1923. She came up with the Italian name of “Bel Air.”

Bell

Bell was actually founded by Alphonso Bell’s father, James George Bell, whose family moved there to start a ranch and farm. Their former home, the Bell House, is now a historic landmark.

Bellflower

Bellflower came out of a bit of a controversy. The name Somerset was already taken by a town in Colorado, and the U.S. Post Office rejected the town’s residents’ request for that name in 1909. A few different explanations for the city's eventual name exist, but its website says that the most common one comes from the town’s orchard of Bellefleur apples.

Beverly Hills

One of the most famous places in the United States, Beverly Hills’ naming shows how random these things can be. Burton E. Green acquired the land in the early 1900s in order to look for oil. Instead, he found water, and he named the city after a farm he loved in Massachusetts.

Boyle Heights

Kristy Plaza, Flickr

Boyle Heights was named after Andrew Boyle by his son-in-law, William Workman. Boyle planted vineyards and lived on the land in the mid-to-late 1800s.

Carthay

The name of Carthay is an Anglicized derivation of J. Harvey McCarthy’s surname, but it has also become more or less indistinguishable from the Carthay Circle Theater, his landmark Hollywood movie house in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is often referred to now as Carthay Circle.

Century City

Century City went from being a ranch to a 20th Century Fox backlot before Fox sold it for $50 million to finance the making of Cleopatra. Now a “city within the city” that houses the headquarters of enormous entertainment companies like CAA, the project was so ambitious at the start that the joke around the name, which was derived from the studio’s, became that it would take a century to finish.

Cerritos

Prayitno, Flickr

Cerritos used to be called “the City of Dairy Valley,” which might be the best name I’ve ever heard for anything. But as the price of land changed, the city shifted its focus from agriculture to development, and the name changed along with it. Cerritos came from the nearby Cerritos College, as well as the 1834 Spanish land grant Rancho Los Cerritos. (Cerritos means “little hills.”)

Commerce

The city was renamed as such in the 1940s to promote commerce. Makes sense!

Compton

Long before N.W.A. repped Compton, Griffith Dickenson Compton made his way to the area in 1867, and the town is named for him.

Cudahy

Cudahy is named after a meatpacker named Michael Cudahy who used the area to raise sheep and hogs in the late 1800s.

Culver City

One of the major parts of Los Angeles that is actually its own city, Culver City was named after Harry Culver, who founded the city in 1917. His ad campaign of “All Roads Lead To Culver City,” combined with luring Thomas Ince’s studio operations there, helped make Culver City one of the main centers of Hollywood operations.

Downey

John Gately Downey has a few different distinctions. Thirty three years old at the time of his election, he remains the youngest man to ever be elected Governor of California, and prior to the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he was the only one to have been born outside the United States. An Irishman, Downey founded the town of Downey, which became a common place for Irish immigrants to settle.

Eagle Rock

Eagle Rock is named for a large rock near the neighborhood that—surprise!—looks like an eagle.

Echo Park

AndrewGorden, Flickr

Echo Park’s name is generally chalked up to a few different, possibly apocryphal stories of workers hearing their voices echo off either bluffs around the park or a dam they were building.

Glassell Park

meltwater, Flickr

An attorney named Andrew Glassell acquired the land that would later become Glassell Park in 1871, and when he and his family began living there, many of the neighborhood’s streets were also named after his relatives.

Green Meadows

Green Meadows is notorious for being very different than its name might suggest—no meadows, not green. But it received the name in 2001 from the 8th District Empowerment Congress, which was attempting to connect neighborhoods in South L.A. to their histories by giving them the names formerly possessed by tracts of land in the same areas. (This is true for a number of other South L.A. neighborhoods, which is why they aren’t on this list.)

Griffith Park

Justin Vidamo, Flickr

The man Griffith Park is named after had not just one, but two Griffiths to offer: Colonel Griffith J. Griffith. Griffith started an ostrich farm on the land, and later donated much of it to the city—perhaps an attempt to atone for the 1903 shooting and killing of his wife, for which he spent time in jail.

Hancock Park

Konrad Summers, Flickr

Hancock Park is named for the Hancock family, specifically G. Allan Hancock, who inherited the land from his father and then developed it for residential use.

Hollywood

You’ve possibly heard of this one? One of the early settlers of Hollywood, Harvey Henderson Wilcox, wanted to name his new land “Figwood,” but he was (wisely) overruled by his wife, who picked up the name Hollywood from a Dutch woman she met on a train. The name was reinforced as it was then used for the main boulevard in town as well as the hotel, which began construction in 1902.

Huntington Park

Ken Lund, Flickr

Huntington Park is named for railroad man and collector Henry Huntington, who also lent his name to Huntington Beach and a hotel, library, botanical gardens, and other places throughout L.A.

La Mirada

La Mirada was actually founded by the mapmaker Andrew McNally, who, along with William Rand, formed Rand McNally. McNally was processing olive oil in the area, and the land passed down through his family. Eventually, after becoming famous for the detail of its planning and development, it was incorporated into Los Angeles, and in 1960, voters changed the name to La Mirada, which is Spanish for “the look.”

Lincoln Heights

Corona, Flickr

As a neighborhood, Lincoln Heights has a longer history than most current areas of L.A.—it’s been a suburb of downtown since the late 1800s. It was referred to as East Los Angeles at first, but in 1913, Abraham Lincoln High School was built nearby, and in 1917, the community voted to rename the neighborhood Lincoln Heights.

Los Feliz

Los Feliz is named for Rancho Los Feliz, which used to be on the territory that the neighborhood now occupies. But the way you pronounce the name is still up for debate—there’s a schism in Los Angeles over whether to pronounce it according to the Spanish way, “Los Fey-LEASE,” or in a more Anglicized fashion, as “Los FEE-lus.”

Lynwood

Not a bad gift to your wife—the dairyman C.H. Sessions named the acres and creamery he’d obtained after his wife, whose maiden name was Lynne Wood. As the area grew, a railroad station took the name Lynwood as well, and it spread from there.

Malibu

The area where Malibu now exists used to be occupied by the Chumash tribe, which called it Humaliwo, meaning “the surf sounds loudly.” If you’ve ever been to Malibu, you’ll know that this is an apt name. Eventually, Humaliwo became “Malibu,” as the “hu” isn’t emphasized in the original Native American word.

Mar Vista

cubby_t_bear, Flickr

In 1923, George Sunday, the son of evangelist Billy Sunday, came up with the name Mar Vista, which is Spanish for “sea view,” when he was naming a subdivision in the former neighborhood of Ocean Park Heights. Santa Monica and Venice tried to annex Mar Vista in the following years, but it became incorporated by Los Angeles in 1927.

Maywood

Strangely, Maywood, like Lynwood, is also named after a woman by the last name of Wood. This one’s first name, as you might expect, was May, and she agreed to allow the real estate corporation she worked for to use her name when they originally divvied up the ranch that was on the property into individual homes.

Montebello

The name Montebello was provided by hydraulic engineer William Mulholland, who would eventually become the namesake for the famed Mulholland Drive. “Montebello” means “beautiful mountain” in Italian, which also means it could be the name of any neighborhood in southern California.

Norwalk

Norwalk was the idea of the two Sproul brothers. They named the land they purchased in 1869 “Norwalk” after North-walk, a trail that crossed the Anaheim Branch Railroad.

Pacific Palisades

The idea of “Pacific Palisades” is very literal: it comes from the neighborhood’s location right on the Pacific Ocean and the resemblance of the cliffs overlooking the ocean to the Hudson River Palisades in New York. Originally founded as a possible religious commune, the area is now famous for beautiful homes, wealth, and those cliffs.

Palms

Ryan Vaarsi, Flickr

Originally known as La Ballona, Palms earned its name when contractors rode in in 1886 and planted thousands of palm trees as a way of prettying up the land they were about to sell. The neighborhood was first called “the Palms,” but like Facebook, it would eventually drop the “the.”

Paramount

One of the more interesting subplots in the development of L.A. was the constant annexation and territorial battles between different neighborhoods and cities within the county. Paramount, which took its name from a major north-south street—and shares it with one of Hollywood’s largest film studios—had to survive the attempts of a number of nearby neighborhoods to absorb it before eventually being incorporated as a city in 1957.

Pico Rivera

Pico Rivera takes the first word in its name—which is also the name of a large east-west boulevard, as well as included in a number of other neighborhoods—from Pío Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, before it transferred into the hands of the United States following the Mexican-American War.

Playa del Rey

Playa del Rey means “beach of the king” in Spanish, and it came to be the major name for the neighborhood, following earlier uses of "Palisades del Rey" and simply "Del Rey" by the contractors and developers who turned it into a residential area.

Santa Fe Springs

Santa Fe Springs takes its name from the Santa Fe Railway. Santa Fe means “Holy Faith,” and it stems from the former full name of Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís.”

Santa Monica

Although there are counter-narratives, one of the most common explanations for the name of Santa Monica is that a group of Spanish explorers found some springs while they were traversing the coast. It was either the feast day of St. Monica, or the springs reminded them of the tears that St. Monica cried for her son Augustine, and they named the area Santa Monica.

Silver Lake

Jeremy Levine, Flickr

Silver Lake shares its name with the neighborhood’s reservoir, which, in addition to the hills and architecture, gives the area much of its beauty. Both are named after Herman Silver, a member of the Los Angeles Board of Water commissioners who served as the superintendent of the United States Mint in Colorado and worked with the railroads before ending up in California due to his health.

University Park

University Park is the neighborhood in which the University of Southern California is located, along with Mount St. Mary’s College and Hebrew Union College.

Venice

Most visitors to Venice will immediately see its network of canals, lined with beautiful homes, and connect the name to the canals of Italy’s Venice. And it’s true that Venice, Los Angeles is named after Venice, Italy, but the name actually preceded the canals. Founded by Abbott Kinney, whose name is now shared with one of the neighborhood’s main streets, Venice was at first called “Venice of America” and was designed as a resort town. Kinney had the canals dug to drain the neighborhood’s marshes as well as to resemble the ones in Italy, but with the advent of the automobile, they fell out of use. The canals weren’t renovated and repaired until 1993, but since then, they’ve become one of the centerpieces of L.A.

Vernon

According to the Los Angeles Times’ Mapping project, Vernon had a population of only 94 in the 2000 U.S. Census, which gives it one of the lowest population densities in L.A. County. The neighborhood was founded as a primarily industrial area, with a focus on railroads, and the men who founded it named Vernon after a dirt path running through the center.

Watts

Owing to the Watts Towers and the Watts Riots in the mid-1960s, the name Watts was originally taken from a developer named Charles H. Watts, who purchased the land that now makes up the neighborhood in order to farm livestock.

Wilshire

InSapphoWeTrust, Flickr

The neighborhood of Wilshire is named for the boulevard that runs through it, one of the major roads in Los Angeles. That boulevard is named for the developer Henry Gaylord Wilshire, a socialist who donated part of the land the boulevard now lies on to the city.

Windsor Square

Windsor Square sounds like what a mansion in the English countryside might be called, and there’s a reason for that. Developer Robert A. Rowan and his associates intended for homes in the neighborhood to be reminiscent of that setting. Prices for home deeds in the area were set high so as to facilitate the building of large homes by the wealthy, and the area became one of the most upscale in urban Los Angeles.

Corrections have been made for Atwater, Paramount, and Pico Rivera.

11 Weird Place Names From Around the World

The sign on the train station platform helps you pronounce this 58-letter-long Welsh town name.
The sign on the train station platform helps you pronounce this 58-letter-long Welsh town name.
hipproductions/iStock via Getty Images

Shakespeare wasn’t wrong when he said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But if these places had any other names, they probably wouldn’t have made this list (or international headlines, in a couple of cases). Read on to discover the fascinating details behind Tasmania’s Eggs and Bacon Bay, French Polynesia’s Disappointment Islands, and other strangely named locales from all corners of the globe.

1. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales

At 58 characters, this tiny Welsh village on the isle of Anglesey has the longest place name in Europe. Translated to English, it’s a phrase that describes the town’s location: Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave. According to Atlas Obscura, the town has existed in some form for thousands of years, but in 1880 a publicity-oriented tailor changed its name from Llanfairpwll to its current moniker in an attempt to attract tourists. Luckily for us, Llanfairpwll is still an acceptable nickname, as is Llanfair PG. Listen to weather reporter Liam Dutton pronounce it like a pro here.

2. Batman, Turkey

Both a Turkish province and its capital city are named Batman for the nearby Batman River. Batman itself could have come from the ancient unit of measurement (equal to 16.96 pounds), or it could be a shortening of the name of the nearby Bati Raman mountains. Either way, the city became the source of scandal in 2008 when its then-mayor, Huseyin Kalkan, threatened to sue Warner Bros. and director Christopher Nolan over their use of the term in the Dark Knight trilogy. (No lawsuit was ever actually filed.) There are also plenty of people who want to reinforce the connection between the place name and superhero—over 26,000 have signed a petition to change the province’s borders to look like the bat symbol.

3. Eggs and Bacon Bay, Tasmania

eggs and bacon flower
KarenHBlack/iStock via Getty Images

Tasmania’s Eggs and Bacon Bay is named after a regional wildflower commonly known as eggs and bacon, whose petals are a mixture of the sunny yellow of egg yolks and the deep red of bacon. The bay made national news in 2016 when PETA petitioned unsuccessfully to change its name to a more animal-friendly “Apple and Cherry Bay.” It doesn’t look like the idea ever made it to a vote at the local council, and officials didn’t seem keen on it. Huon Valley deputy mayor Ian Paul told The Guardian that the idea was “ludicrous,” adding “I feel pretty strongly about it. This is our heritage, it is our history.”

4. Wonowon, British Columbia

It’s not a coincidence that this Canadian town, pronounced “one-oh-one,” is located on Alaska Highway’s Mile 101, where the U.S. Army operated a 24-hour checkpoint during World War II. The town was originally named Blueberry after the nearby Blueberry River, but was eventually changed to Wonowon to prevent people from confusing it for another Blueberry in the southeastern Kootenay region. It’s not clear when the name officially changed to Wonowon, but according to a mention in a 1956 issue of the Northern Sentinel, the Post Office recognized it as Wonowon, while the residents still called it Blueberry. Why Blueberry in the first place, you ask? Possibly because British Columbia produces 96 percent of Canada’s cultivated blueberries.

5. Spa, Belgium

fountain in Spa, Belgium
Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Spa, Belgium, sounds relaxing, and for good reason. The word spa comes from this eastern Belgian town, whose curative mineral springs have been visited since the 16th century and were even mentioned by Pliny the Elder. Spa itself could be derived from espa, the Walloon word for "spring" or “fountain,” or the Latin word spagere, meaning “to scatter, sprinkle, moisten.” Or it could be an acronym for the Latin phrase sanitas per aquas, which fittingly means “health through water.”

6. Westward Ho!, England

book cover of Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley
Frederick Warne & Co, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1855, Charles Kingsley published a book called Westward Ho!, in which a young man leaves his home in Bideford, England, to pursue a seafaring life of adventure under the tutelage of famed explorer Sir Francis Drake. The book became a bestseller, and some enterprising folks formed the Northam Burrows Hotel and Villa Building Company in 1863 with the intention of capitalizing on the attention. They started by building the Westward Ho! Hotel, and continued to develop the area by constructing terraces, lodges, bath houses, stables, and a golf club. As development progressed, the village that sprung up around the hotel became known as Westward Ho! also.

7. The Office Girls, Antarctica

The Office Girls are two glacial islands, also called nunataks, about seven miles away from Welcome Mountain near the Southern Ocean coast of Antarctica. There are so many tiny pieces of land to map in Antarctica that the U.S. has an Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names to name them all—and in 1970 they chose “The Office Girls” as a tribute to all of the personnel who assisted with the administrative side of the missions from home in the continental U.S.

8. Punkeydoodles Corners, Ontario

The origin of the name of this tiny hamlet has been debated for decades. Some people say it’s the product of a German tavern owner’s slurred rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” while others say Punkeydoodle was an insult thrown at resident pumpkin-grower John Burbrigg by a vexed neighbor, and from then on his plot of land was called “Punkeydoodle’s Corners.” The charming Canadian town was once home to a somewhat charming Canadian crime: Mischief-makers often stole the town’s sign, until Canada Day in 1982, when community members replaced it with a concrete monument that weighs almost a ton.

9. Malpelo Island, Colombia

Sunset over Malpelo Island
Janos/iStock via Getty Images

The Spanish words mal pelo translate to “bad hair” in English, implying that this island is in some way a nightmare for bouffants, beehives, and blowouts. It’s more likely the result of a metaphorical game of telephone that spanned half the globe and several centuries. It could be derived from the Latin malveolus, meaning “inhospitable” or “spiteful,” which might’ve become malbolo and later mal pelo [PDF]. It’s also on a world map from 1550 as ye mallabry, which probably means malabrigo, a word for “shelterless” that Spanish cartographers used to mark some islands and bays. Malabrigo sort of sounds like mal pelo, at least if you’re shouting it to someone on the opposite side of the island.

10. Hotazel, South Africa

Welcome to Hotazel, where it’s hot as hell—or at least it was on the day in 1915 when a group of land surveyors assessed a farm in South Africa and named the whole place “Hot As Hell,” now spelled “Hotazel.” The climate is actually pretty reasonable, with summer temperatures sometimes reaching the 90s (in Fahrenheit) and winter temperatures sometimes dipping into the 30s.

11. Disappointment Islands, French Polynesia

In 1765, Lord Byron’s grandfather John Byron was sailing around the tip of South America when he chanced upon a tiny island in the distance. To him and his scurvy-ridden crew, it looked like paradise, but he soon realized the high surf and coral reefs prevented safe anchorage. That, in addition to the spear-wielding natives stationed along the shore, dashed their hopes so severely that Byron named the island (and its nearby sister landmass) the Islands of Disappointment. This may have shielded the islands from centuries of follow-up explorers, but it also literally gives them a bad name. In reality, says BBC Travel’s Andrew Evans, they’re "timeless."

6 Weird Things Embedded in City Streets

A Toynbee tile near the White House in 1995
A Toynbee tile near the White House in 1995
Elvert Barnes, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Most of us spend our days walking around with our eyes pointed straight ahead or looking around, seeing the rest of the world mostly at eye-level. But there are advantages to looking down, and not just because it helps you avoid stepping on other people’s feet. Strange, wondrous, and occasionally terrible things have been found stuck to the surface of city streets—just take a look at the examples below.

1. Toynbee Tiles

If you have a revolutionary idea to share with the masses, you could write an op-ed in a major paper, talk to a local member of congress, start an activist organization, or pay for a PR campaign. Or, you could carve the message into a square of gummy linoleum and stick it in the street. Whatever floats your boat!

The linoleum method is the one employed by the mysterious creator of the Toynbee Tiles—lettered rectangular plaques that have appeared in dozens of major U.S. cities since the 1980s, as well as in several South American locations. Most of the tiles contain some version of the following message:

TOYNBEE IDEA
IN KUBRICK'S 2001
RESURRECT DEAD
ON PLANET JUPITER

Tile-followers, and there are a few, generally interpret Toynbee as a reference to 20th century British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, although some think it could refer to the Ray Bradbury short story "The Toynbee Convector." The 2001 is, of course, a reference to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which depicts a voyage to Jupiter.

No one knows who's behind the tiles, and it may not be a single individual. For years, many tile enthusiasts believed they were the work of James Morasco, a Philadelphia carpenter who communicated with the Philadelphia Inquirer in the early 1980s about the idea of resurrecting the dead on the planet Jupiter. But the tiles have continued to appear long after Morasco's death in 2003, and his widow claims he never had anything to do with them.

The story gets much, much weirder. David Mamet claims the idea for the tiles came from one of his plays; many of the tiles contain screeds against the mafia, media, and the Jews; Larry King is somehow involved. For those who are intrigued, the excellent 2011 documentary Resurrect Dead delves deeper into the mystery.

2. The Paris Central Guillotine

It’s been called “the most awful spot in Paris.” These five rectangular indents near the Pére-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris look ordinary enough, but they have a grisly tale to tell. They’re actually slabs that once formed the foundation for the Paris guillotine, which sliced off 69 heads—in public—between 1851 and 1899. (France continued sending people to the guillotine until 1977, but not here.) The guillotine stood at the entrance to the now-demolished Prison de la Roquette, and shut down when the prison itself ended its dark days.

3. The Hess Triangle

The Hess Triangle in NYC
The Hess Triangle in NYC
Nan Palmero, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It may be the ultimate New York-style "screw you, buddy," at least as far as the city's streets are concerned. Where 7th Avenue and Christopher Street cross in Manhattan's West Village, there's a mosaic triangle that takes up about 500 square inches. Its black letters spell out an oddly aggressive message: "Property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes."

The message, and the triangle, are a remnant of a very minor early 20th century property battle, in which New York City used eminent domain to seize a nearby apartment building when expanding the IRT subway in the late 1910s. The apartment building was owned by Philadelphia landlord David Hess, whose family later noticed that the city’s seizing had left them this one tiny triangle. City authorities asked the family to donate the triangle, but they refused, installing this defiant mosaic instead, in 1922. It’s a little outdated, however: in 1938, the family finally gave up and sold the plot to the owners of Village Cigars for $1000, or $2 per square inch.

4. Jewish Tombstones

During World War II and for decades afterwards, Jewish tombstones in Poland were treated as construction material, plundered from cemeteries to pave streets, courtyards, and passageways, and used to repair walls and curbs. In 2014, the city of Warsaw agreed to return 1000 Jewish tombstones, known as matzevot, that had been used to build a pergola and stairs inside a city park.

Polish photographer Łukasz Baksik spent several years documenting the tombstones’ appropriation as paving material and masonry, with the results published in a book called Matzevot for Everyday Use. Meanwhile, a nonprofit called From the Depths runs the Matzeva Project, which aims to find and restore some of the millions of gravestones still hidden in Poland, as well as the often-forgotten Jewish cemeteries from which the stones were stolen.

5. Potholes Crying out for Help

Potholes are the mosquito of urban infrastructure problems: minor but persistently irritating. Over the past few years, several people have been trying new approaches to getting them repaired. In Panama City, the TV show Telemetro Reporta launched a project in 2015 installing motion-sensitive detectors in the city’s potholes. When a car ran over the sensor, the device automatically sent a tweet to the Ministry of Public Works. In Chicago, artist Jim Bachor took a more delicious approach, creating mosaics of popsicles and other items inside potholes both in Chicago and Jyväskylä, Finland. The crudest—but potentially most effective—technique comes from Manchester, where a man who identified himself to the BBC only as “Wanksy” drew penis shapes around potholes. “They [potholes] don't get filled. They'll be there for months,” Wanksy said. “Suddenly you draw something amusing around it, everyone sees it and it either gets reported or fixed." The local city council spokesperson called the drawings “incredibly insulting.”

6. Tourist-friendly QR codes

It’s not as weird as the other entries on the list, but possibly more useful. Rio is known for its stunning beaches, spectacular Carnival, and the black-and-white sidewalk mosaics around the city known as Portuguese pavement. In 2013, the city began installing QR codes using the same black-and-white stone used to create decorative images of fish, waves, and vegetation. The city installed about 30 of the codes at beaches, scenic hotspots and historic sites, and tourists can use the codes alongside a smartphone app to get background information in Portuguese, Spanish, and English.

This list first appeared in 2016 and was republished in 2019.

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