An ongoing brouhaha over what to call a section of Harlem is the latest battle in a long-running war over neighborhood naming rights
By Joe Anuta
Holding the line: Brian Benjamin sees the nickname SoHa as an attack on Harlem’s history. (Photo: Buck Ennis)
A Harlem businessman in 2010 trademarked the term SoHa with plans to print T-shirts and promote southern Harlem as a residential and retail destination. Now the community board is trying to compel Paul Phillips to enforce that trademark in order to ban developers and real estate brokerages from using SoHa, a moniker it says deliberately diminishes the area’s past.
“Harlem has a rich political and cultural history, but there is also another history of rundown streets and crime,” said board chair Brian Benjamin, who is leading the fight against SoHa. “These people are trying to separate the two legacies for those who spent a lot of money on condos and brownstones and think of Harlem as a bad word.”
Arguments over what New York’s neighborhoods are called, where they start and end, and who has the right to say so are as old as the city itself. But the battles lately have become much more sophisticated. Mapping software, government approvals and even federal courts are being employed by various factions looking to demarcate the city to suit their interests. Neighborhood names and boundaries are not officially recorded by the city and largely exist as a matter of collective opinion that evolves over the years. Real estate developers, however, have had an outsize hand in christening New York’s neighborhoods since much of the city was once vacant land that they could simply buy and name themselves.
Read more: Naming rights: Who decides what a neighborhood is called and where it starts and ends? | Crain’s
Residents: Don’t call southern Harlem ‘SoHa’ | Fox 5
New medical school to open in Harlem | Crain’s New York Business
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