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National Landing And The Trouble With Neighborhood Rebranding

A rendering from November 2018 of the north section of National Landing, including parts of Pentagon City and Crystal City

Before any shovels touched dirt for Amazon HQ2 just over the river from Washington, D.C., Amazon had already changed the landscape of its future second home.

A partnership of Amazon, developer JBG Smith and local officials decided to rename the area including parts of Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, dubbing it National Landing in concert with the HQ2 announcement. That rebranding is far from unique, as The Conversation reports.

National Landing is exemplary of the top-down, corporate definition of a neighborhood rather than the decades-long demographic trends that more traditionally establish communities.

Crystal City and Pentagon City are not densely populated residential areas, but other cities with more of a residential base have experienced tension over neighborhood names.

As certain parts of a city gain a common reputation for poverty, crime or anything that might hurt their ability to recruit businesses or build property value, it has been common for decades for neighborhood associations to form with the goal of creating a new identity around which the community can rally to boost civic pride, according to The Conversation.

In some of those cases, the impetus behind such transformation comes from local real estate developers who are aware of the challenges in marketing homes, offices or apartments in overlooked neighborhoods. In a section of Philadelphia just north of Center City, developer Arts & Crafts Holdings has been amassing and marketing property under the umbrella term "Spring Arts."

The post-industrial area has been known by several names over the years, including "Eraserhood" as a nod to onetime resident David Lynch's eerie debut film, and has yet to raise much ire. But near the heart of Center City, real estate agents and businesses have been labeling the northern section of the Gayborhood as Midtown Village, seeking to highlight its location and affluence while downplaying its cultural roots and, to some, erasing its character.

Developers attempting to instigate name changes without consulting established residents can make those residents feel like the vestiges that developers want to replace with new blood, according to The Conversation.

When Keller Williams began marketing real estate in South Harlem as part of "SoHa" in 2017, the outrage led to a local state senator proposing legislation to prevent such top-down rebranding. Keller Williams pulled the plug on SoHa a month after the legislation was introduced, and the bill never became law.

Gentrification is endemic to urban growth all over the country, but when businesses change a neighborhood's name to appeal to a different demographic than the current local population, they hide the social legacy of that area. In doing so, The Conversation argues, it can hasten socioeconomic change, making it more difficult for longtime residents to keep pace with rising rents and tax bills.