People walk outside of Citi Field during Gatorade All-Star Workout...

People walk outside of Citi Field during Gatorade All-Star Workout Day in Queens. (July 15, 2013 ) Credit: Getty Images

For the past 20 years, I've taken the train to the Market East Station in my hometown of Philadelphia. But I'm not going to be doing that again anytime soon.

That's because Market East no longer exists, at least not officially. It recently became Jefferson Station, after Thomas Jefferson University Hospital paid Philadelphia's regional transportation authority $4 million to put Jefferson's name on the station for the next five years.

Likewise, LIU Post announced in the spring that it would rename its football stadium in Brookville after the Bethpage Federal Credit Union. Bethpage displays its logo while LIU gets $1.5 million to upgrade the facility. And everyone walks away happy. Right?

Wrong. Our shared spaces communicate important lessons about who we are. By selling the naming rights to corporate interests even at a private institution like LIU, we communicate that nothing is truly shared, that everything is for sale, and that the clutter of commercial messages is the price we pay to sustain our common lives.

Of course, America's urban landscape has long been littered with garish advertising. Ditto for our highways, which are jammed with signs and billboards for every place and product under the sun.

But it's one thing to sell advertisements on a road; it's another to sell the road itself. Two years ago, Virginia became the first state to offer naming rights for its bridges, highways and roads.

"You're stuck on a highway, you're sitting, and all you can do is look at the sign that says 'Tostitos Bridge' or 'The Coca-Cola Overpass,' " one brand-building consultant told the BBC, shortly after the Virginia experiment.

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Even state parks and beaches sport ads on nature trails and other facilities. A park is "a very quiet marketing environment," said Shari Boyer, the chief executive of a company that brokers deals between parks and corporate sponsors. "It's a great place to reach people; they're in the right state of mind."

Or marketers can go straight to public schools. Dozens of high schools have sold naming rights to their football fields for fees ranging up to $1 million. One Florida school district actually issued its report cards in jackets issued by McDonald's, provoking a public outcry that ended the practice.

Indeed, naming-rights arrangements seem to generate dissent especially when the public doesn't like the product promoted.

So New York Mets fans initially condemned the team for selling its new stadium's name to Citigroup, which received billions in the federal bank bailout even as it was cutting more than 100,000 jobs. And Florida Atlantic University was forced to cancel a naming deal with a private prison operator after students protested the idea.

But the real problem is selling names in the first place. If we want to improve a road or a school, we should tax ourselves, impose higher user fees or issue bonds to do it. By delegating the task to a private donor, we erode our shared spaces and the civic sentiments they inspire. A truly public enterprise demonstrates our faith in one another. And a facility papered with advertisements suggests the opposite: that we lack real community, so we need to put ourselves in private hands.

I've got nothing against Thomas Jefferson University Hospital; it seems like a terrific institution. But we shouldn't rechristen a train station in its honor simply because Jefferson can pay for the privilege.

Why must we market everything, including the name of Market East?

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in suburban Philadelphia. He is the author of the upcoming "Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education."