Once Named National Landing, Amazon’s Arlington Area Tests “NaLa”

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At first, it appeared in homage water bottles. Then he made his way rainbow t-shirts for the month of pride.

In June it appeared on Instagram as a hashtag, and this month it was suddenly plastered on the surfboard and silver Airstream set up in a grassy area of ​​Arlington, declaring to commuters, dog walks, and stalking joggers that their neighborhood had earned a brand new nickname: NaLa.

Yes, “National Landing” – the term invented by local economic development officials to lure Amazon to Northern Virginia four years ago – is shortened and SoHo-ized, reduced to a two-syllable abbreviation that says everything, and nothing, all at once.

“NaLa?” asked Mohsin Abuholo, sitting on a bench near a fake lifeguard shack advertising the NaLa Beach Club on a wet evening this week. “I think it’s a name for a woman. How does Anala? “

“Must it be some new thing they’re doing?” wondered Allison Gaul, 38, a lawyer accompanying her 10-year-old Dalmatian, Dotty, nearby. “I don’t know what the hell ‘NaLa’ means.”

“I had to try to figure it out. I mean, sure, I guess, “said Johnathan Edwards, 40, who returned to the area a year ago for his work at Amazon.” I’m not a huge fan of that, to be honest. “

National Landing, the combined umbrella name of this set of Northern Virginia neighborhoods – Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard – was the subject of much confusion when it first debuted in 2018, with many long-time residents referring to it. they refused to adopt a label that they said looked like a corporate creation for Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)

Now, just like AdMo (Adams Morgan) and CoHi (Columbia Heights) before, or NoMa before that, the area seems to experience the kind of abbreviation that, depending on who you ask, is synonymous with yuppiness peak or new kind of urban cool.

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Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, executive director of the National Landing Business Improvement District (BID), made it clear that “NaLa” was nothing more than a series of events her organization was throwing this summer.

In addition to the beach club – which invites neighbors to “close their eyes and enjoy this summer escape with their feet in the sand” – there is NaLa Fit, with an outdoor bar, HIIT and yoga classes, and NaLa Fridays at the Park. , a series of weekly concerts featuring local musicians.

“It’s more of an abbreviation that is meant to be fun and punchy,” said Sayegh Gabriel. “There is no intention of introducing a new name for the neighborhood.”

But others have also adopted the unsolicited abbreviation: A dental practice in historic Alexandria – officially outside the borders of National Landing – recently changed its name to NaLa Smiles, in part to attract some of Amazon’s new customers as patients. (“It was a better abbreviation on panels and signage, and it sounds better,” said Hisham Barakat, the owner of the office.)

And through social averageeven some residents and small businesses have begun to use the shortcut to a rapidly changing area that is already seeing an influx of new condos, restaurants and corporate relocations.

“We have a lot of community pride, equity and social capital in the names we have. So we are really committed to keeping ‘Crystal City’, ‘Pentagon City’ and ‘Potomac Yard’ in use, along with the umbrella name of ‘National Landing’, “added Sayegh Gabriel.” It’s the destination we’re building. “

This does not mean that everyone else sees it the same way.

‘A cultural shortcut’

The logic behind “NaLa” is nothing new in the DC area or beyond. As long as there have been neighborhoods, there have been portfolios meant to sell those neighborhoods and their potential trend.

“It’s kind of a cultural shortcut,” said Jeffrey Parker, an urban sociologist at the University of New Orleans. “Places with this kind of name, this kind of nomenclature are associated with certain kinds of amenities and certain kinds of commerce. … It’s very silly, but it’s a brand. It’s boosterism “.

One of the earliest examples in the United States, he said, is New York’s SoHo. Once a deteriorating light industrial area, it was renamed by planners as they sought to relocate the neighborhood for the artists who took control of its spacious lofts.

It didn’t hurt that the new name evoked a hip part of London, and imitation versions followed throughout Lower Manhattan: Tribeca. Nomadic. FiDi.

But more than half a century later, when New York real estate agents tried to peddle nicknames like “SoHa” (South Harlem) and “SoBro” (South Bronx) well out of the city center, some said it had gone too far. Beyond: A lawmaker even proposed a bill that would punish brokers who used made-up names to sell properties.

The trend – and the resulting build-up – arrived within the Beltway not long after. “North of Massachusetts Avenue” was successfully renamed “NoMa”, with a stop on the red subway line to seal the deal. Other attempts vanished amidst the backlash: neither SoNYA (south of New York Avenue), the GaP (between Georgia Avenue and Petworth), nor SoMo (south of Adams Morgan) seemed to resist.

“This is something really easy to make fun of,” said Parker, the urban sociologist, but “people see something that works once and they stick to it.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the two-syllable craze has reached South Arlington, where for the past four years this rapidly changing neighborhood has sought to clarify its identity and what it should be called.

After decades of being known as a kind of soulless concrete maze, the neighborhoods of Crystal City (named after a chandelier in the atrium of a local building) and Pentagon City (from the nearby US Army home) were immediately pushed into the urban superstar when Amazon announced in November 2018 that it would bring its second home here.

But when officials celebrated the company’s new neighborhood as “National Landing,” a generic term that also spread to parts of Alexandria’s Potomac Yard, the resounding reaction was: What?

“Ever heard of a national landing?” a local blog asked. “You are not alone.”

Stephanie Landrum tells her origin story: When economic development officials from Northern Virginia gathered in 2017 to submit a joint bid for Amazon’s second location sweepstakes, the proposal was known as “Alexandria-Arlington. “.

She and her colleagues put together a 285-page booklet extolling the virtues of this booming region to send to Amazon and, just before printing, they realized something was missing: everything – more convincing to label it.

“We literally spent so much time writing all about a vibrant and connected community,” said Landrum, president and chief executive of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, “that we have come to the last day and had to make a decision.”

Crystal City? That was just a neighborhood. Potomac landing? That didn’t stick. Landrum said he was writing to his counterpart in Arlington, each with a celebratory glass of wine in hand, when they settled on National Landing.

The name, meant to evoke the nearby Reagan Domestic Airport and the area’s long list of transportation options, quickly became ubiquitous in their respective offices as they engaged in secret talks with Amazon the following year.

When they finally made the announcement, “we almost forgot that the rest of the world didn’t know we created this moniker,” Landrum said.

However, BID and developer JBG Smith both embraced it, using the name more and more as the neighborhood began a physical and cultural transformation: in addition to Amazon’s offices, the area is now home to Boeing’s new headquarters and , soon, of the new Virginia Tech college campus. There will be a new yellow line station at Potomac Yard (PoYa?), The first filling stop added to the subway system in decades, and a pedestrian bridge that will connect the airport with the rest of the neighborhood.

Sitting on a picnic table near the NaLa Beach Club, Robert Vainshtein, a 36-year-old federal employee, burst into a chuckle when asked about the neighborhood’s two new nicknames.

“What’s wrong with ‘Crystal City’?” asked Vainshtein, 36, an Alexandria resident who commutes here for work. “It has always been ‘Crystal City’. I don’t think people will take it off. “

Across the table, Lauren Callahan, 27, said “NaLa”, not to mention “National Landing”, hasn’t clicked for her yet. But the changes that have come with these names are certainly not a problem.

She’s a fan of the free bananas that Amazon handed out near the infamous Crystal City underground mall, she noted, and of the iced coffee that BID distributes weekly at the installation a few meters away.

“They are doing great things for the area. It’s a very trendy thing to do, ”Callahan pointed out. “Who knows? Maybe” NaLa “will catch on more than” National Landing “.”

“Yes,” Vainshtein objected, “but it’s made up.”

“Well,” he asked, “what isn’t invented?”

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