Once Called National Landing, Amazon’s Arlington Area Tries “NaLa”


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

In June, he popped up 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. , all at once.

“Nala? asked Mohsin Abuholo, sitting on a bench near a fake lifeguard hut advertising the 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’re 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 collection of Northern Virginia neighborhoods — Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard — was the subject of much confusion when it debuted in 2018, with many longtime residents refusing to d ‘adopting a label they said felt like a business creation for Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

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

Along with the beach club – which urges neighbors to “close their eyes and enjoy that summer getaway with your toes in the sand” – there’s NaLa Fit, with outdoor barre, HIIT and yoga classes, and NaLa Fridays at the Park, a 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 begun using the shorthand to refer to a rapidly changing area that is already seeing an influx of new apartment buildings, restaurants, and business moves.

“We have a lot of community pride, equity and social capital in the names we have. We are therefore very committed to maintaining the regular use of ‘Crystal City’, ‘Pentagon City’ and ‘Potomac Yard’, as well as the generic name of ‘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 area 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) far outside of downtown city, some said it had gone too far: One lawmaker even proposed a bill that would punish brokers who use made-up names to sell property.

The trend – and the resulting stack – entered the Beltway soon after. “North of Massachusetts Avenue” was successfully rebranded as “NoMa,” with a stop on the Red Line subway to seal the deal. Other attempts failed amid the backfire: neither SoNYA (south of New York Avenue), nor GaP (between Georgia Avenue and Petworth), nor SoMo (south of Adams Morgan) seemed to hold.

“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 have both embraced it, increasingly using the name as the neighborhood began a physical and cultural transformation: In addition to Amazon offices, the area is now home to the new Boeing headquarters and, soon, the new Virginia Tech college campus. . There will be a new Yellow Line station at Potomac Yard (PoYa?), the first filler 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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