Opinion

National Landing Is a Neighborhood “With No Finite Boundaries.” That Sounds Amazing

There's a case to be made for the totally made-up new neighborhood name.

Arlington and Alexandria came up with the name “National Landing” for Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard, the three extant neighborhoods that will play host to Amazon’s HQ2. Actually, maybe it’s even four: Virginia Tech’s planned new innovation center is in Del Ray.

New neighborhood names are a reliable trigger for people who care a lot about the place they live. Some catch on and others don’t, but the first flare of news of a new moniker is often memorable. National Landing, which we learned about abruptly in press releases about HQ2, was no exception.

But as annoying as these rebrandings can be–seriously, South Capitol Hill for Navy Yard???–please allow me to make a case for National Landing, which I believe represents a positive shift in thinking about borders in general. NatLand will have “no finite boundaries,” Stephanie Landrum, the president and CEO of Alexandria Economic Development, told me Tuesday. It’s less a physical place than a symbol of the city of Alexandria and Arlington County working together to land a headquarters that hundreds of jurisdictions pursued and that eventually landed in two metro areas a four-hour drive from each other. If HQ2 can exist in New York and Arlington, why can’t National Landing be wherever Amazon-adjacent projects take root?

Alexandria was once part of DC. Arlington was once part of Alexandria. There’s a part of Fairfax that calls itself Alexandria and another that calls itself Falls Church. Across the river, the boundaries of District neighborhoods can be the subject of hot debate from people who totally have better things to do. Just try to tell a Parkside resident they live in Mayfair!

What I would like to propose here is that the problem with boundaries is that by their nature they are designed to keep people out, whether by immigration or the copy on real-estate listings. It’s a friction point as old as desirable neighborhoods–look for an apartment in Brooklyn and you won’t believe what counts as Park Slope–and usually as interesting as hipsters’ stereotypical concerns about authenticity, which is to say barely interesting at all.

Maybe we shouldn’t stop with National Landing: We’re already used to living in “Washington,” an area where someone who lives in Clarendon is more likely to have common experiences with a resident of Shaw than they do with someone in Farmville, so let’s scale up that thinking. Maybe northern Ontario and the Upper Peninsula should form a free-travel zone or the California and Nevada communities around Lake Tahoe should form their own school system funded by special taxes on weekend residents. Maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, we don’t need a wall between the US and Mexico, either.

So I urge all of us who love this place to ease up on National Landing. You’ll still be able to get off the Metro at Crystal City, dine out in Del Ray, or visit the Costco without ever visiting it: It’ll be up to you whether you’re there or not. Imaginary boundaries are the best kind.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.