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


In the beginning it appeared on freebie water bottles. Then it found its way to rainbow T-shirts for the Pride month.

In June it appeared on Instagram as a hashtag, and this month it was suddenly plastered to the surfboard and silver Airstream set up in a grassy patch of Arlington, to the commuters, dog walkers and joggers who passed by, declared that their neighborhood had earned a brand new nickname: NaLa.

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

“NaLa?” Mohsin Abuholo asked, sitting on a bench near a fake lifeguard hut advertising the NaLa Beach Club on a damp evening this week. “I think it’s a name for a woman. Like Anal?”

“That must be something new they’re doing?” asked Allison Gaul, 38, a lawyer who walked 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 moved back to the area a year ago for his job at Amazon. “I’m not a big fan of it, to be honest.”

National Landing, the combined 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 take on a label. which they said felt like a business creation for Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

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

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Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, the 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 hosted this summer.

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

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

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

And about social mediaa few residents and small businesses have also started using shorthand for a rapidly changing area that is already seeing an influx of new apartment buildings, restaurants and corporate relocations.

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

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

‘A cultural abbreviation’

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

“It’s kind of a cultural shorthand,” 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 facilities 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, he said, is SoHo in New York. Once a deteriorated, light-industrial area, it was renamed by city planners when they wanted to repurpose the neighborhood for the artists who took over the spacious lofts.

It didn’t hurt that the new name evoked a hip part of London, and copycat versions followed in lower Manhattan: Tribeca. Nomad. fiDi.

But more than half a century later, when New York real estate agents like “SoHa” (South Harlem) and “SoBro” (the South Bronx) tried to sell far outside the city center, some said it had gone too far: One lawmaker even proposed a bill that would punish real estate agents who used invented names to sell real estate.

The trend – and the subsequent stacking – reached the Beltway not long after. “North of Massachusetts Avenue” was successfully renamed “NoMa,” with a stop on the subway’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.

“This is something really easy to joke about,” says Parker, the urban sociologist, but “people see something work once, and they stick to it.”

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

After being known for decades as a sort of soulless concrete maze, the neighborhoods are Crystal City (named after a chandelier in the lobby of a local building) and Pentagon City (after the nearby US Army home) were immediately pushed into the urban superstardom when Amazon announced in November 2018 that it would be establishing its second headquarters here.

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

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

Stephanie Landrum tells his origin story: When economic development officials in Northern Virginia gathered in 2017 to submit a joint bid for the second sweepstakes at Amazon headquarters, the proposal was known as “Alexandria-Arlington.”

She and her colleagues put together a 285-page booklet praising the virtues of this thriving region to send to Amazon, and just before going to print, they realized they were missing something — something – more compelling to label it.

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

Crystal city? That was just one neighborhood. Potomac landing? That didn’t stick. Landrum said she texted her 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 respective offices when they held secret talks with Amazon the following year.

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

Still, BID and developer JBG Smith both embraced it and used 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 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 subway system in decades, and a pedestrian bridge connecting the airport to the rest of the neighborhood.

Robert Vainshtein, a 36-year-old federal employee, sat at a picnic table near the NaLa Beach Club and 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 been ‘Crystal City’ forever. I don’t think people are going to get that out of hand.”

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

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

“They do nice things for the area. It’s a very trendy thing to do,’ Callahan noted. “Who knows? Maybe ‘NaLa’ will catch on more than ‘National Landing’.”

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

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

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