Once Called National Landing, Amazon’s Arlington Area Tests ‘NaLa’

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At first, it appeared in a giveaway water bottles. Then he made his way to rainbow t-shirts for Pride month.

In June, it appeared on Instagram as a hashtag, and this month it was suddenly placed on the surfboard and the silver Airstream set up shop in a grassy area of ​​Arlington. declaring to commuters, dog walkers, and runners that her neighborhood had earned a new nickname: NaLa.

Yes, “National Landing,” the term invented by local economic development officials to lure Amazon to Northern Virginia four years ago, is being shortened and suffocated, reduced to a two-syllable abbreviation that says everything, and nothing, everything. at the same time. one time.

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

“That must be something new they’re doing?” asked Allison Gaul, 38, a lawyer who was walking her 10-year-old Dalmatian, Dotty, nearby. “I don’t know what the hell ‘NaLa’ means.”

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

National Landing, the blanket umbrella name for this set of Northern Virginia neighborhoods (Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard) was subject to much confusion when it first debuted in 2018, with many longtime residents refusing to adopt a label they said they liked a 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 that, the area seems to be trying out the kind of shorthand that, depending on who you ask, is synonymous with peak yuppines or a new kind of urban style.

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

In addition to the beach club, which invites residents to “close their eyes and enjoy this summer getaway with their toes in the sand,” there’s NaLa Fit, which offers an open-air bar, HIIT, and yoga classes. , and NaLa Fridays at the Park, a weekly concert series. with local musicians.

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

But a few others have adopted the abbreviation, too, spontaneously: A dentist’s office in Old Town Alexandria, officially off limits to National Landing, recently changed its name to NaLa Smiles, in part to appeal to some of Amazon’s new customers. as patients. (“It was a better abbreviation on boards and signs, and it sounds better,” said Hisham Barakat, the owner of the office.)

Y via Social mediaSome residents and small businesses have also taken to shorthand for a rapidly changing area already experiencing an influx of new apartment buildings, restaurants, and corporate relocations.

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

That doesn’t mean everyone else sees it the same way.

‘A cultural shorthand’

The logic behind “NaLa” is nothing new in the DC area or beyond. As long as there have been neighborhoods, there have been trunks aimed at selling those neighborhoods and their potential trend.

“It’s kind of cultural shorthand,” said Jeffrey Parker, an urban sociologist at the University of New Orleans. “Places with this type of name, this type of nomenclature are associated with certain types of services and certain types 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, city planners renamed it as they sought to rezone the neighborhood so artists would take over its spacious lofts.

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

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

The trend, and the resulting surge, reached the Beltway soon after. “North of Massachusetts Avenue” was successfully rebranded as “NoMa”, with a stop on the Metro Red Line to close the deal. Other attempts failed amid the pushback: Neither SoNYA (south of New York Avenue), GaP (between Georgia Avenue and Petworth), nor SoMo (south of Adams Morgan) seemed to hold up.

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

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the two-syllable craze has arrived in South Arlington, where this rapidly changing neighborhood has been trying for the past four years to sort out its identity and what it should be called.

After decades of being known as some sort of soulless cement labyrinth, the neighborhoods of Crystal City (named for a chandelier in the lobby of a local building) and Pentagon City (for the nearby US Army home) They immediately shot to urban stardom when Amazon announced in November 2018 that it would be bringing its second headquarters here.

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

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

Stephanie Landrum tells her origin story: When economic development officials in Northern Virginia came 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 prepared a 285-page brochure extolling the virtues of this prosperous region to send to Amazon, and just before it went to print, they realized something was missing: anything – more convincing to label it.

“We spent literally so much time writing everything about a vibrant and connected community,” said Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, “that we got to the last day and needed to make a decision. .”

crystal City? That was just one neighborhood. Potomac Landing? This is not functional. Landrum said he was texting his counterpart in Arlington, each with a celebratory glass of wine in hand, when they settled on “National Landing.”

The name, intended 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 forgot that the rest of the world didn’t know we created this moniker,” Landrum said.

Still, the IDB and developer JBG Smith accepted it and used the name more and more as the neighborhood began a physical and cultural transformation: In addition to Amazon offices, the area is now home to the new headquarters of Boeing and, soon, , Virginia Tech’s new graduate campus. There will be a new Yellow Line station at Potomac Yard (PoYa?), the first infill stop added to the Metro system in decades, and a pedestrian bridge connecting the airport to the rest of the neighborhood.

Sitting at a picnic table near the NaLa Beach Club, Robert Vainshtein, a 36-year-old federal employee, laughed when asked about the two new neighborhood nicknames.

“What’s wrong with ‘Crystal City’?” asked Vainshtein, 36, an Alexandria resident who commutes here for work. “It’s been ‘City of Glass’ forever. I don’t think people realize that right off the bat.”

Across the table, Lauren Callahan, 27, said “NaLa,” let alone “National Landing,” hasn’t clicked for her yet, either. But the changes that have occurred with these names are not a bother.

She’s a fan of the free bananas Amazon has been handing out near Crystal City’s infamous underground mall, she noted, and the iced coffee the IDB delivers weekly to the facility a few feet away.

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

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

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

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