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


At first he appeared for free water bottles. Then he made his way to rainbow t shirts for a month of pride.

In June it appeared on Instagram as a hashtag, and this month it was suddenly pasted on a surfboard and a silver Airstream set up on Arlington’s grassy lot. announcing to passersby, dog walkers and joggers passing by, that their neighborhood has a new nickname: NaLa.

Yes, “National Landing” — a term coined by local economic development officials to lure the Amazon to Northern Virginia four years ago — is being shortened and transformed into SoHo, shortened to a two-syllable acronym that says everything and nothing, all at once.

— Nala? Mohsin Abuholo asked, sitting on a bench next to a fake lifeguard shack advertising the NaLa beach club on a damp evening this week. — I think it’s a name for a woman. How is Anala?

“They must be doing something new?” asked Allison Goal, 38, a lawyer walking her 10-year-old Dalmatian, Dottie, nearby. “I don’t know what the hell NaLa means.

“I had to try to figure it out. I mean, sure, I think,” said Jonathan Edwards, 40, who returned to the area a year ago to work for Amazon. I’m not a big fan of him, to be honest.

National Landing, the combined umbrella name for this set of Northern Virginia neighborhoods – Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard – caused a lot of confusion when it first debuted in 2018, with many longtime residents refusing to accept the label they say seemed similar to them. corporate creation for Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Now, like AdMo (Adams Morgan) and CoHi (Columbia Heights) before it, or NoMa before it, the area seems to be trying a kind of shorthand that, depending on who you ask, is synonymous with either peak happiness or a new kind of urban coolness.

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Tracey Sayegh Gabriel, executive director of the National Boarding Business Improvement (BID) District, made it clear that NaLa was nothing more than a series of events her organization put on this summer.

In addition to the beach club, which invites neighbors to “close their eyes and enjoy this summer toe-in-the-sand escape,” there’s NaLa Fit, which includes barre, HIIT, and outdoor yoga classes, and NaLa Fridays at the Park, a weekly concert series. featuring local musicians.

“It’s more of a cut that should be fun and energetic,” Sayegh Gabriel said. “There is no intention of introducing a new name for the district at all.”

But some others have also embraced the acronym without being asked: A dentist’s office in Alexandria’s Old Town – officially outside of National Landing – recently changed its name to NaLa Smiles, in part to attract some of Amazon’s new customers as patients. (“This acronym looked better on boards and signs, and it sounded better,” said Hisham Barakat, the office owner.)

As well as through Social mass mediaseveral residents and small businesses have also begun using the shorthand for the rapidly changing area, which is already seeing an influx of new apartment buildings, restaurants and corporate moves.

“We have a lot of community pride, equity and social capital in the names we have. Therefore, we really want to ensure that the names “Crystal City”, “Pentagon City” and “Potomac Yard” remain in constant use, along with the general name “National Landing,” added Sayegh Gabriel. “This is the destination we’re building.”

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

“Cultural Shorthand”

The “NaLa” logic is not new in DC or outside of it. As long as neighborhoods exist, there are suitcases designed to sell those neighborhoods and their potential fashion.

“It’s a kind of cultural shorthand,” said Jeffrey Parker, an urban sociologist at the University of New Orleans. “Places with such a name, with such nomenclature, are associated with certain types of amenities and certain types of trade. … It’s very stupid, but it’s branding. It’s boosterism.”

One of the earliest examples in the United States is Soho in New York, he says. Once a declining light industrial district, city planners have renamed it as they sought to reshape the area for the artists who occupy its spacious lofts.

It didn’t hurt that the new name evoked associations with the fashionable part of London, and imitative versions followed throughout Lower Manhattan: Tribeca. Insane. FiDi.

But more than half a century later, when New York real estate agents tried to sell nicknames like “SoHa” (South Harlem) and “SoBro” (South Bronx) far beyond the inner city, some said it had gone too far: One the MP even proposed a bill to penalize brokers who use fictitious names to sell property.

The trend — and the one that followed in bulk — made its way to the Beltway shortly thereafter. “North of Massachusetts Avenue” was successfully renamed “NoMa” with a stop on the subway red line to seal the deal. Other attempts withered away in the backlash: neither SoNYA (south of New York Ave.), GaP (between Georgia Ave. and Petworth), nor SoMo (south of Adams Morgan) seem to have caught on.

“It’s really easy to laugh at it,” said Parker, an urban sociologist, “but people see that something works once, and they cling to it.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two-word craze has reached South Arlington, where the fast-paced area has struggled for the past four years to sort out its identity and what it should be called.

After decades of notoriety as a kind of soulless concrete labyrinth, the neighborhoods of Crystal City (named after the chandelier in the lobby of a local building) and Pentagon City (after the nearby home of the US military) immediately turned into an urban superstar when Amazon announced in November 2018 that it would move its second headquarters here.

But when officials glorified the company’s new area as the “National Wharf,” an umbrella term that also fixated on part of Alexandria’s Potomac Yard, the backlash was as follows: Which?

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

Stephanie Landrum tells its origin story: When Northern Virginia economic development officials got together in 2017 to submit a joint bid for Amazon’s second headquarters lottery, 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 realized they were missing something – anything – make it more convincing.

“We literally spent so much time talking about a dynamic, connected community,” said Landrum, president and chief executive officer of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, “that we kind of came to the last day and had to make a decision. “.

Crystal City? It was only one area. Potomac landing? It didn’t stick. Landrum said she was texting a colleague in Arlington, each with a celebratory glass of wine in hand, when they stopped at National Landing.

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

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

However, BID and developer JBG Smith have both embraced it, using the name more and more as the area began a physical and cultural transformation: in addition to Amazon offices, the area is now home to Boeing’s new headquarters, and soon a new campus for alumni of Virginia Tech. . There will be a new Yellow Line station in Potomac Yard (PoYa?), the first stop added to the subway system in decades, and a footbridge connecting the airport to the rest of the area.

Robert Weinstein, a 36-year-old federal employee, sat at a picnic table outside the NaLa Beach Club and laughed when asked about the area’s two new nicknames.

“What’s wrong with Crystal City?” asked Weinstein, 36, a resident of Alexandria who travels here to work. “It was Crystal City forever. I don’t think people will understand it right away.”

Sitting across the table from him, 27-year-old Lauren Callahan said NaLa, let alone National Landing, hadn’t clicked for her either. But the changes that have taken place with these names are hardly worrying.

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

“They are doing good things for the area. It’s very trendy,” Callahan said. “Who knows? Maybe ‘NaLa’ will get more attention than ‘National Landing’.”

“Yes,” Weinstein countered, “but it’s a fabrication.

“Well,” she asked, “what is not made up?”

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