Like many of you, I regularly lurk on the streets.mn forums to stay current on development news around Minneapolis and Saint Paul. This past Monday (April 17th), one of the big development stories of the day was the unveiling of updated designs for a new apartment tower being considered at 333 Hennepin Ave E.
— Eric Best (@ericthebest) April 17, 2017
Like a good urbanist, I enjoyed the height and density of the building, tut-tutted the lackluster design and excessive curb cuts, and overall thought what I often do about new buildings being added in the city: it’s marginally better than a surface parking lot.
But there was one thing about the proposal that really drew my attention – in the design packet provided to the Nicollet Island – East Bank Neighborhood Association by developer Mortenson, it’s stated that one of the proposed names for the building is YOLO.
And that is something I just couldn’t let pass without commentary, because it’s one thing for a brand or company to make a temporary fool of themselves by using popular phrases on a social media post, but it’s another entirely to commit a city to that mistake for presumably decades.
This is the inevitable culmination of that district naming trend 99% Invisible has dubbed ‘Acronames.’ Sometimes it works, and sometimes it becomes the subject of ridicule. For every Soho and Tribeca, there’s a WeDo. Trendy new apartment buildings have been falling victim to the naming convention too: like WaHu near the U of M and LoMa at the corner of Lowry and Marshall in Northeast.
These acronames are silly, and they’re not going to age well. But they’re mostly harmless, and can always be fixed in the future. What’s harder to undo is when choosing a name brings with it the city’s first building named after an internet meme. You can rename the building, but the mocking articles that will be written about it by Buzzfeed and CityPages will remember it forever.
According to Know Your Meme, the phrase YOLO (which, to those who blissfully don’t know, is an acronym for You Only Live Once) has floated around the internet since 2004, but didn’t really spread into the public consciousness until it was used in the 2011 song “The Motto” by Drake ft. Lil Wayne. Since then, it’s just kind of been a dumb thing people say before doing something exciting, adventurous, or stupid.
It’s a phrase often attributed to the Millennial generation, which is undoubtedly how it ended up in the design packet in the first place. I’m sure someone attended seminars hosted by ‘influencers’ and ‘Millennial experts’ who are paid a lot of money to give businesses clues as to how to spear the Great White Whale that is the Millennial wallet. They were probably told that Millennials want the place they live to be “part of their identity” and that unique and standout product names make great hashtags, so Millennials will want to live there to be part of the “in discussions.”
My informal poll of the Millennials I know shows the most important factor in choosing an apartment is that it doesn’t involve selling organs to be able to afford it, so there’s that.
If Mortenson had hosted a contest asking the public to cast an internet vote for what they’d like to see this building named, I could see YOLO being written in as a joke and getting spam voted to the top by bored pranksters. But then again, when that’s happened in real life, the result has been much more entertaining and reeked less of calculated generational targeting. If Mortenson had proposed naming 333 Hennepin “Building McBuildingface,” it would at least be worth a chuckle.
According to Google Trends, the phrase’s use across the internet has been in steady decline since February 2013, so this building wouldn’t even be named after a relevant meme. Why not DoYoEvLi, a charming acroname to pay homage to the phrase “Do you even lift, bro?” Or if they’d add in a rooftop dog run, maybe DoGe? Or if they really wanted an evergreen acroname, why not RiRo? That one never gets old.
If any developers are reading this, note that the previous paragraph was a joke. Please don’t do any of that.
Acronames are kind of dumb and goofy, but they’re here to stay. Writing commentary about them has already been done, and it’s already been satirized by people way funnier than I am. But the fact that a document, produced by an actual developer, submitted to a neighborhood association, has YOLO on it as a potential name for a real building in Minneapolis, is a sign that apartment names are about to cross a line that shouldn’t be crossed.
Please, Mortenson, I beg you. Please do not name 333 Hennepin “YOLO.”