A few months ago, writer Julie Szego bemoaned the Americanisation of place names in Melbourne. She identified two examples – the “Madison at Upper West Side” development on the old Spencer St power station site and “Tribeca” on the former Victoria Brewery site in East Melbourne.
She invoked the spirit of Robin Boyd to explain just how easy it is to sell the gloss and sparkle of New York to aspirational Melburnians:
Robin Boyd in The Australian Ugliness, the highly influential polemic about cultural cringe in the 1950s and early ’60s, observed that the most ”fearful” aspect of Australia’s low-rent mimicry of the American aesthetic ”is that beneath its stillness and vacuous lack of enterprise is a terrible smugness, an acceptance of the frankly second-hand and the second-class, a wallowing in the kennel of cultural underdog”
While Melbourne’s developers and apartment buyers pretend they’re living Sex in the City downunder, real New Yorkers are continuously inventing new, home-grown names to market projects. Here are six New York neighbourhoods you probably haven’t heard of:
SoLita: Downtown Manhattan, south of NoLita between Tribeca and Little Italy
FiDi: (Financial District, geddit?) Southern tip of Manhattan between the South Street Seaport and Battery Park City
BoCoCa: Brooklyn waterfront area comprising Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens, also known as Columbia Street Waterfront District
LIC: Southwestern waterfront tip of Queens, including Hunter’s Point (also known as Long Island City)
Two Bridges: Southeast of Chinatown beneath the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges
Southside: South part of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, near Williamsburg Bridge exit
Other examples – some of which resurrect old names or functions – include the Meatpacking District, Dumbo (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass), East Williamsburg and Vinegar Hill. According to this writer, areas “like NoMad (north of Madison Square Park) and others like SoHa (south of Harlem) haven’t exactly caught on yet”. One commenter says that some, like Dumbo, were coined by the populace, not developers.
This has all gotten too much for certain New Yorkers. Suliman Osman reports that a Brooklyn (State) Assemblyman, annoyed that real estate agents are calling the area between Prospect Heights and Crown Heights “ProCro”, is calling for a Neighbourhood Integrity Act. One of his complaints is that rebranding lower income areas as hip could ultimately displace traditional residents.
However Osman, who is an academic at George Washington University and author of Inventing Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity, points out that inventing names has a long history and can be a positive force:
The Neighborhood Integrity Act is an understandable response to a cynical form of place naming. But in the end, even the oldest neighborhood names are invented. That does not make them unimportant. Greenwich Village was once as new a title as BoCoCa, but it allowed, in time, residents to organize politically and to retain a sense of history and place. So, perhaps, will BoCoCa one day.
The complaint I hear from people in Melbourne isn’t the fact of giving large new developments their own names, but rather importing the labels from elsewhere. We’ve always had the Paris End of Collins St and Julie Szego says she’s heard the western part of the city referred to as the Prague End (she reckons it should actually be called the Bucharest End!). She praises the Eureka Tower, named after the miners’ rebellion and wonders why the developers of Tribeca, the large residential development on the former Victoria Brewery site at the corner of Powlett and Albert streets in East Melbourne, couldn’t have followed the same path:
The recipe for VB was developed there in the early 1900s and the brewery’s Victorian facade has been tastefully preserved. The place, in essence, reeks of Melbourne. Surely this would have been a marketing opportunity to relish? But what did a bunch of clever folks decide to name it? ”Tribeca”, of course, after the monied neighbourhood in old New York.
I hope in the future we have home-grown names in key areas of central Melbourne, but I hope we’re spared the likes of ElCoBo, PaPr, SoSoBa and NooDo (the first one is the Elizabeth St precinct between Collins and Bourke – maybe someone can figure out the rest, or make up some new ones!)