South Park has shown us the “rustic charm” and “unique cafés” of SoDoSoPa (south of downtown South Park) while How I Met Your Mother takes us to DoWiSeTrePla (Downwind of the Sewage Treatment Plant).
Where are we going? To neighborhood names as brands.
In downtown areas that have been gentrified, neighborhoods get new names. In San Francisco, there is SoMa (south of Market), in Oakland, NOBE (North Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville), a section of Brooklyn became DUMBO (down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass) and instead of South Philly, we got Graduate Hospital.
NY’s BoHo (Bowery below Houston) never made it:
But here is DUMBO:
The SoHo Story
In a recent paper, several scholars looked at SoHo (south of Houston–pronounced how-ston) through their history of Greene Street. It is a story that shows how a neighborhood name gets value.
Greene Street/SoHo History:
Visiting Greene Street during the first half of the 19th century, we would have seen upscale businesses and homes. Occupied by a residential population of doctors, lawyers, craftsmen and merchants, the area was upper middle class. All changed though when the hotels and a theater that were built nearby attracted prostitution. As the brothels proliferated, the residents departed.
But by 1880, again we have a drastic change. The nightlife moves uptown, the city’s hat makers select Greene Street as a new home and the block regains value. It did not last, though, and, as firms moved uptown after 1910, the area deteriorated until some called it Hell’s Hundred Acres.
Our story’s happy ending starts during the 1960s. Illegally moving in, a growing number of NYC artists were attracted by the area’s empty high-ceilinged factories. Soon art galleries followed and then posh stores and museums. At the same time, an urban planner decided to call the 73 acre neighborhood SoHo.
Reflected by Greene Street, the value of SoHo real estate skyrocketed:
Our Bottom Line: The Value of a Brand
For upscale stores like Tiffany and Lululemon, a name encompasses a world of images, of quality and of higher prices that together achieve some product differentiation. Similarly, signaling gentrification, real estate agents rename neighborhoods. Whereas the old name might represent rundown buildings and crime, the new name becomes a competitive device designed to increase demand, buoy prices and distinguish the area from its competitors.
So yes, it might be wise for us to care about the name of our neighborhood.