In a city, such as New York, a neighborhood name holds a lot of weight. Beyond geographical terminology, our sense of place comes from the distinct characteristics we associate with a neighborhood that we then share with each other through descriptive vocabulary.
The potency of words in the city is something that is often forgotten, as names are dismissed as “just names” but in reality these terms and identifiers are our universal urban language that help make the complexities of urban living, more manageable.
In New York the effect of a name is something that has been tried and retried as neighborhoods and boroughs have been sought as the ultimate brands. Rebranding efforts, such as East Williamsburg and Acronyms such as DUMBO, MIMA, and SoBro are used by real estate brokers to lure renters and buyers to areas often unheard of or less coveted.
The effect this has on a neighborhood can be substantial, as the history of an area becomes glossed over and thus forgotten as the words we use to associate with place become removed or replaced.
At last weeks City Planning Commission meeting, the importance of name came to the forefront as local community members made steps to secure an area of Manhattan, south of Midtown West and north of Chelsea as a BID (business improvement district). Some may call this area Hell’s Kitchen, Clinton, and most recently the Western most part, Hudson Yards.
The conversation turned philosophical when neighborhood residents described what would be lost if the BIDs name did not include the “Hell’s Kitchen” identity that many of the current residents associate strongly with. They argued, that by neglecting the title “Hell’s Kitchen” a part of the neighborhood would be marginalized; particularly residents who have been there for a number of years and who lived through the organized crime days and the crack epidemic of the 1980s.
While it may seem knit-picky to get so caught up in a name, the recently approved mega-developments in the area branded as The Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project has challenged a neighborhood known for it’s diverse residents and “gritty” past. The Hudson Yard Development will add notable skyscrapers to the New York skyline, as well as a culture hub, retail, and park space, drawing in a demographic that has only recently looked to call that part of Manhattan, home.
When originally proposed, the BID sought to be called the “Hudson Yards Business Improvement District” however it seems after a fair share of compromise the name will most likely be, “The Hudson Yards, Hells Kitchen Alliance,” signifying a joining of two very different neighborhood identities that will soon share a home on the West side of Manhattan.