Once called National Landing, Amazon’s Arlington area tries on ‘NaLa’

Once called National Landing, Amazon's Arlington area tries on 'NaLa'

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At first he appeared on freebie Bottles of water. Then he made his way on rainbow t shirts for pride month.

In June, he appeared on Instagram as a hashtag, and this month he was suddenly glued to the surfboard and the silver Airstream set up in a grassy patch of Arlington, telling commuters, dog walkers and strutting joggers that their neighborhood has earned a whole new nickname: NaLa.

Yes, “National Landing” — the term coined 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 it all and nothing at the same time.

“Nala? Mohsin Abuholo asked, sitting on a bench near a fake lifeguard hut advertising NaLa Beach Club on a wet evening this week. “I guess it’s a name for a woman. Like Anala?

“It must be a new thing they are doing?” wondered Allison Gaul, 38, a lawyer walking her 10-year-old Dalmatian, Dotty, nearby. “I don’t know what ‘NaLa’ means.”

“I had to try to figure that one 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 big fan of it, to be honest.”

National Landing, the combined generic name for this set of Northern Virginia neighborhoods—Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard—has been the subject of a lot of confusion when it debuted in 2018, with many longtime residents refusing to embrace a label they felt looked like a company build for Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Now kinda like AdMo (Adams Morgan) and CoHi (Columbia Heights) before him, or NoMa before that, the area seems to be trying the kind of shorthand that, depending on who you ask, is synonymous with either peak yuppiness or a 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 hosting this summer.

Outraged the beach club – which invites neighbors to “close their eyes and enjoy this summer getaway with your feet in the sand” – there is NaLaFitoffering outdoor barre, HIIT and yoga classes, and NaLa Fridays at the Parka weekly concert series featuring local musicians.

“It’s more of a shortcut that’s meant to be fun and impactful,” said Sayegh Gabriel. “There is no intention to introduce a new name for the district.”

But others have also adopted the abbreviation, uninvited: A dentist’s office in Old Town Alexandria – officially outside the boundaries 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 signs and signage, and it sounds better,” said Hisham Barakat, the office owner.)

And on the other side social mediaa few residents and small businesses have also started using the shortcut for a rapidly changing area that is already seeing an influx of new apartment buildings, restaurants and company relocations.

“We have a lot of community pride, equity and social capital in the names we have. So we are really committed to maintaining the regular use of ‘Crystal City’, ‘Pentagon City’ and ‘Potomac Yard’, as well as the generic name ‘National Landing’,” added Sayegh Gabriel. “This is the destination we are building.”

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

“A cultural shortcut”

The logic behind “NaLa” is nothing new to the DC region or beyond. As long as there have been neighborhoods, there have been suitcases 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 types of amenities and certain types of commerce. … It’s very silly, but it’s branding. 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 city planners as they sought to rezone the neighborhood for artists to take over its spacious lofts.

It didn’t hurt that the new name evoked a hip London neighborhood, and copycat versions followed in Lower Manhattan: Tribeca. Nomadic. FiDi.

But more than half a century later, as New York real estate agents tried to peddle nicknames like “SoHa” (South Harlem) and “SoBro” (the South Bronx) well outside of downtown city, some said it had gone too far: A legislator even proposed a bill it would punish brokers who use invented names to sell goods.

The trend – and subsequent stacking – did it inside the ring road shortly after. “North of Massachusetts Avenue” was successfully renamed “NoMa”, with a stop on the metro’s red line to seal the deal. Other attempts failed amid the backlash: neither SoNYA (south of New York Avenue), the GaP (between Georgia Avenue and Petworth), nor SoMo (south of Adams Morgan) seemed to stick.

“It’s something that’s really easy to make fun of,” said Parker, the urban sociologist, but “people see something work once, and they hang on to it.”

So it’s perhaps no surprise that the two-syllable craze has reached South Arlington, where this rapidly changing neighborhood has been trying for four years to figure out its identity — and what it should be called.

After decades of being known as some sort of soulless maze of concrete, the neighborhoods of Crystal City (named after a chandelier in the lobby of a local building) and Pentagon City (after the nearby house of the American army) were immediately propelled into urban stardom when Amazon announced in November 2018 that it would be moving its second headquarters there.

But when officials celebrated the company’s new neighborhood as “National Landing,” an umbrella term that also looped through part of Alexandria’s Potomac Yard, the resounding reaction was: What?

“Never heard of National Landing? asked a local blog. “You’re not alone.”

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

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

“We’ve literally spent so much time forging words about a vibrant and connected community,” said Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, “that we’ve kind of come to the last day and had to make a decision.”

City of Crystal? It was just a neighborhood. Potomac landing? It didn’t stick. Landrum said she was texting her counterpart in Arlington, each with a celebratory glass of wine in hand, when they settled on “National Landing.”

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

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

Yet the BID and developer JBG Smith both adopted it, increasingly using that name as the neighborhood began a physical and cultural transformation: in addition to the offices of Amazon, the neighborhood now houses Boeing’s new headquarters and, soon, the new Virginia University campus Tech. There will be a new Yellow Line station at Potomac Yard (PoYa?), the first drop-off stop added to the subway system in decades, and a pedestrian bridge connecting the airport to the rest of the neighborhood.

Sitting on a picnic table near the NaLa Beach Club, Robert Vainshtein, a 36-year-old federal employee, burst out laughing 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’s always been ‘Crystal City’. I don’t think people are going to get away with it all at once. »

Across from him, 27-year-old Lauren Callahan said “NaLa,” not to mention “National Landing,” hasn’t clicked for her yet, either. But the changes that have accompanied these names are hardly troublesome.

She’s a fan of the free bananas Amazon hands out near the infamous Crystal City underground mall, she noted, and the iced coffee the BID hands out weekly at the facility a few yards away.

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

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

“Well,” she asked, “what isn’t made up?”

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