The Case Of Street-Naming And House-Numbering

By Harold Agyeman

5/6/2006 -

Recognition of need for change exists
On page 29 of the February 10, 2005 edition of the Daily Graphic, a news item was reported of the attempt by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to undertake a civic house numbering exercise.

Quite recently a similar report was put out in the papers on the matter. Also, on page 28 of the May 7, 2006 edition of the Daily Graphic, a report was made of the ZIP Code Street Project of the Shama Ahanta District, being undertaken by a company known as ASI Zip Code Systems Limited. The spokesperson of the contracting company noted that the ZIP Code Street Address and House Numbering Project was an application of the United States of America system being implemented to suit the Ghanaian situation to identify places and people living in communities.

The attempts being made by the two above-mentioned local government units to ensure some logic to house numbering and location identification gladdens our heart. We have not been able to verify, but we suspect that it is not the same company doing the project in Takoradi that is undertaking the project for the AMA.

We are therefore concerned by the likely patchy outcome of the projects and the frustration that this may create if the project is not able to fully deliver because it does not fit into the overall system. Systems analyst suggest to us that everything is a part of a system and, as a result, each problem must be reviewed and addressed in a holistic manner lest a good remedy for a deficient part react badly with the entire framework and lead to a serious malfunctioning of the entire system.

We need a national standard for Ghana’s ZIP codes
In this article, we basically argue for the establishment of a national standard in developing Ghana’s ZIP codes and logic for house numbering to ensure coherence and consistency in the projects being undertaken by the districts as well as to enhance the value and usability of the data derived.

The history of ZIP codes
It may well be important to recall the history and basic elements of the ZIP codes, which were developed by the United States of America.

Robert Moon, an employee of the post office, is considered the father of the ZIP Code. But since 1944 when he submitted his proposals while working as a postal inspector, the ZIP code system has evolved up to the system in use today. ZIP Code was originally registered as a trademark by the U.S. Postal Service, but its registration has since expired.

A ZIP Code is the postal code used by the United States Postal Service; with the word ZIP standing for the Zone Improvement Plan. The basic ZIP Code format consists of five numerical digits, which is extended by a four numerical digit code to allow a piece of mail to be directed to a more precise location. For example the ZIP code for a neighbourhood could be 10009 (five digits) but to locate the street, a city block, a group of apartments, an individual high-volume receiver of mail, or any other unit that could use an extra identifier to aid in efficient mail sorting and delivery, an extended four digit code such as 1957 would be added. The full format of the ZIP code would thus be 10009-1957. In addition to the ZIP+4 codes, the United States also introduced two-letter abbreviations for states, eliminating the need to write the state's name out in full.

The Structure and allocation of ZIP codes
In the United States the ZIP Codes are numbered with the first digit representing a certain group of states, the second and third digits together representing a region in that group (or perhaps a large city), and the fourth and fifth digits representing more specific areas, such as small towns or regions of that city, in numerical order.

In the case of Ghana, therefore, an easy logical structure for allocating ZIP codes would be to allocate the first digit of the ZIP code to the various regions in the English alphabetical order as follows:
0 = Ashanti Region (AR); 1 = Brong Ahafo Region (BA); 2 = Central Region(CR); 3 = Eastern Region (ER); 4 = Greater Accra Region (GA); 5 = Northern Region (NR); 6 = Upper East Region (UE); 7 = Upper West Region (UW) 8 =Volta Region (VR); 9 =Western Region (WR).

Thereafter the second and third digits would be allocated sequentially on the basis of the ranking of the districts in the region along the English alphabetical order, with the fourth and fifth digit representing the villages, towns and suburbs of boroughs of the few cities in the district.

In such a situation if you live in, for instance, Nkwatia in the Eastern Region of Ghana, your address using the ZIP code system could be akin to something like this –
Kwame Onipa
20 Nyamebeye Street
Nkwatia, ER 30914

It would be noticed from the above address that the two-letter abbreviation of ER was used for the Eastern Region. Also, through the use of the ZIP codes, you can be assured that your letter would not land in Akwatia, also in the Eastern Region, which spells almost similar save for the first word.

Let our public institutions spring into action
Establishing a ZIP code system for Ghana is therefore not a difficult proposition as some may consider it to be. Other societies have already invented the wheel and ours is the rather easy task of emulating and adapting what they have done.

Perhaps in Ghana the problem is with which institution must lead this public service charge. In the United States it was the Postal Service. But in Ghana if the postal service is unable to take on this responsibility at this time for reasons of capacity, other institutions of State such as the Ministry for Public Sector Reforms or the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, if that tortoise can finish thinking about moving and move, should be empowered to act. This is because the benefits of the ZIP code system extend beyond the intense use by the postal agency. It has benefits for Government’s statistical tabulations and analysis, the national identification system, civil security matters, marketing analysis, and in analyzing geographic factors in risk, an insurance industry and banking practice pejoratively known as redlining.

Necessary Corollaries to ZIP Codes system
However, for a ZIP code system to be useful it must be accompanied by an effective and logical location identifier such as proper street names and house numbers. But that is a matter we shall addess below.
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A casual visitor to any major city in Ghana is struck by the state of confusion that exists with regard to the otherwise simple task of identifying a street or road.

In some of our so-called cities, street names do not exist. Yet in some cases they exist but are not known because the location signage may not be affixed at the street intersection or it could even be blocked out by so many other commercial signages advertising all manner of services and products. Yet still even in cases where the necessary traffic signs exist, some serve more the purpose of a decorative piece, as neither city authorities nor anybody else is able to functionally use the street name in for instance delivering mails, serving notices or just plain giving directions because of the absence of a logical structure to the entire project.

Once, we personally tried to locate a building in the Cantonments area from the street address given, and it was a slow and painful process. In the end, we had to contact an acquaintance who “manually” gave us directions, i.e. take left, locate the woman roasting plantains, there is a big mango tree to the right of her stand, take the next right after that and count four house on the left. Imagine how discomfited we would have been if the mango tree had been cut down? What is the importance of a street name?

In a previous article we noted the importance of street names to a ZIP code system and to the concept of street addresses. A street address specifies a location by reference to a thoroughfare, or a landmark; or it specifies a point of postal delivery. Street addresses are critical information for administrative, emergency response, research, marketing, mapping, GIS, routing and navigation, and many other purposes.

The structure of street names
Street names are often given in a two-part form: an individual name known as the specific, and an indicator of the type of street, known as the generic. Examples include "Kojo Thompson Road", "Independence Avenue" and "High Street". In the above instance “Kojo Thompson” is the specific, while “Road” is the generic. In places with a grid-numbering system, the street names may include a direction such as east, west, north, south. etc. Models for street naming In respect of the specific aspect of a street name, there are different models in use by different countries. In the past some streets were named after the dominant type of commerce or industry of the area. Some streets are also named for landmarks that were present along the road when it was constructed. Further, many roads are given the name of the town to which they lead. But by far, in our part of the world, the names of distinguished or famous individuals dominate the streets.

In many places, however, streets can only be named after a person after their death, in their honour. Also popular, are the use of themes in naming streets. A well-known example is in Philadelphia, where the major east-west streets in the original plan for the city carry the names of trees in alphabetical order. There is also the grid-based naming system for cities laid out on a grid plan such exists in Manhattan in New York City. Street type designations The generic designation of street or road types can be divided into various types, each with their own general style of construction and purpose. In the case of Ghana, our attempt to understand the logic behind designation of streets came to a dead end.

We found it a tedious and exercising task trying to understand the rational for Kwame Nkrumah Avenue and Kojo Thompson Road which basically move in the same geographical direction. Neither were we able to discern the rational of High Street save that it was an early major road of Accra, nor of the many Links, Lanes, Loop. And our level of education is not basic. There ought to be some logic to the generic designation of streets so that we all can know for instance if Roads lead off Streets, and that Lanes lead to a dead end, etc.

In some other English-speaking countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, cities are often divided by a main "Road", with "Streets" leading from this "Road." In Manhattan, East-West streets are "Streets" whereas North-South streets are "Avenues". In Montreal "Avenue" (used for major streets in other cities) generally indicates a small, tree-lined, low-traffic residential street.

In establishing the logic for Ghana's road naming standards the following designations may be used:

• Avenue = a thoroughfare running principally in a north-south direction (or could be east-west depending on how "street" is defined).

• Circle = short road that returns to itself; circular or semi-circular roads.

• Court = permanently closed road such as a cul-de-sac; dead-end road, usually under 1,000 feet in length, or horseshoe-shaped road.

• Lane = private road or driveway.

• Loop = short drive that begins and ends on the same road

• Road = most common designation for a secondary thoroughfare; generally indicates a heavily travelled route.

• Street = usually found in cities or more congested areas; run principally in an east-west direction (or could be north-south depending on how "avenue" is defined).

National Group of Experts on Geographical Names
To address the inconsistencies in the street address naming system in Ghana, we recommend that a small group of experts on geographical names be put together to create a Street Address Standard that can be used in establishing the policy on street naming in Ghana by cities. The Experts Group should be a standing one and serviced by the Survey Department, which has cartographic expertise. The Experts Group should also have responsibility for approving the street names endorsed by MMDAS, and have additional remit to include cities, town and village names. In carrying out its task it should consider ways by which it can help other users of its output in the field to accept this modern logic.

Standards for house numbering are important too
House numbering is also an important component of street addresses. In simple terms a house number is the system of giving a unique number to each building in a street or area, with the intention of making it easier to locate a particular building.

The most common house numbering scheme is derived from the European model where a number is allotted each plot on one side of the road. Odd numbers from 1 may be assigned to plots on the left side of the road and even numbers from 2 assigned the right side of the road. Where additional buildings are built in between plots or plots are subdivided, these are often suffixed with a, b, etc. Where buildings are later combined, they may use just one of the original numbers, or give their address as a range (e.g. 13 15). Where some plots are not built upon, there may be considerable gaps in the numbering scheme. A less common scheme, found for example in cul de sacs, streets with buildings only on one side, is to number all plots on one side of a street consecutively, continuing clockwise back down on the opposite side of the street. For instance, 10 Downing Street, the official home of the British Prime Minister, is next door or adjacent to rather than opposite of 11 Downing Street, the home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

In the case of Ghana, it appears that the European Scheme of house numbering is in use in a few places. There is however evidence of wide use of a scheme - related to plot numbers - which my simple mind finds complicated. In that instance a house number could for instance be established as House No. 26/197 F. While the logic of the above house numbering system is difficult to ascertain, it may be perhaps a convenient reversion to a system that thrives well in a chaotic spatial development framework.

The way forward with house numbering
We believe that the national standard of house numbering in Ghana should be along the lines of the European Scheme with any modifications to fit our local context. That should be an assignment that the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development should, in consultation with Metropolitan, Municipal and District authorities, be able to carry out within a short period of project time. After designing the structure and logic, the phase of implementation should put emphasis first on subjecting all new infrastructural development in new areas to this numbering system. The old house numbers of existing structures may be changed in a gradual but systematic manner as resources permit.

We hope that with these thoughts some Public Service entity has been whipped into action to do the right thing for our collective benefit.

Disclaimer: "The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article." © Harold Agyeman.