Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Does a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

I invited my neighbors in Hillcrest to join my little Buy Ward 7 and 8 Campaign on our listserv. Boy was I shocked by the reaction. It’s not so much what was said, but then intensity behind it. Granted written communication can sometime be misconstrued, I felt like the unwelcomed new kid at middle school lunch.

Without going into a full play-by-play of the email exchange, the general gist of all the emails to me was around the fact that I referred to Ward 7 and 8 as “River East” and “Ward 15”. Some highlights:

  • It’s “East of the River” or the historical reference of “Washington East” or “East Washington”
  • “River East” is a place in Chicago and not DC
  • We shouldn't allow folks to change the name
  • Communities “East of the River” do not need to be "rebranded." They need to be marketed.
  • Changing the name is confusing

Although all these responses were over the listserv, several people sent emails directly to me. One person said, “We demand to stay in the box!” (they were being facetious) which made me laugh. Another person said it is great to see young people bringing new ideas to the neighborhood. They thanked me for bringing a new energy.

Back to the issue of names… “River East” was born out of the creative minds of young professionals that moved into the neighborhood. I had an opportunity to meet some of the founders of River East Emerging Leaders (R.E.E.L), who explained the concept behind “River East”. Their intention was never to change the identity of the communities, but to change the perception of this area to people who live outside of the area.

For right or for wrong, “East of the River” has a negative connotation to people that live outside of the area. To some people it has the same sound as "other side of the tracks" or "those people over there". As the City continues to gentrify, the Anacostia River (as it was prior to the building and rebuilding of the Penn Ave Bridge back in the day) is rapidly becoming the new barrier between the “us” and “them”. If the "them" have the wrong impression of the"us" then the them won't invest in our community. Perhaps the potential of gentrification is why some of the email writers were so impassioned to maintain their identity.

What is the solution? Maybe “River East” is not the right solution... maybe it is, but can we attract the needed investment with the name “East of the River”? I am personally not opposed to making history new again by using the historical name of “Washington East”. It has a certain regalness to it.

Buy Ward 7 and 8 Challenge

Despite the initial lambasting, some of my neighbors are going to join in. One of the ANC commissioners had a great idea of seeing which neighborhood spends the most. I spent a total of $48.15 today.

  • $8.14 at the Safeway on Alabama Ave. In the afternoons, I like to buy chai from the vending machine at my job. Ran to Safeway to stock up.
  • $40.01 at the gas station at the intersection of Good Hope, Naylor and Alabama. (When did gas prices go up??? Yesh)


  1. Don't worry about it. I got one of those Anti - River East comments on my blog. I brushed it off, thanked the writer for their perspective, suggested they submit a reader article on the issue and then I promised to keep on using River East. :)

    The fact of the matter is that EOTR has a negative connetation. It's there - regardless of who is to blame its there and that name is keeping a lot of great people from moving here and is also marginalizing a lot of the great things that are happening here and that could happen here.

    It's branding pure and simple and if anywhere could use new branding it's here.

    For those who have such an issue with using River East I would love to hear what they have been doing personally to advocate "East of the River" in a positive light. Whatever it is it doesnt seem to be working because as you so rightly pointed out "East of the River" is synonous to "the other side of the tracks" and brings negative issues to mind.

    Something that I have noticed ever since I moved to RIVER EAST (especailly in Ward 8) is that you will encounter a small number of really negative people. These people may at one time (and may still do) have had good intentions but now all they are left with is a need to complain, critize and generally intimidate anyone else who dares try to get involved in what they deem "their" community - ESPECAILLY if you weren't born and raised in the neighborhood.

    As a resident (new or old) I have every right to be here and every right to be involved. I let no one intimidate me and I brush that silliness off for what it is - counter productive.

    It is that type of foolish and short sightedness that has kept RIVER EAST divided and lets be honest behind the times in terms of progress and development.

    It's not that the name "River East" that these few people are afraid of it's the change it represents and that is nothing to be afraid of and you can't stop change.

    BTW - CM Yvette Alexander of Ward 7 not only attended the REEL events but wrote about it and refers to this area as RIVER EAST and WARD 15.


    The Advoc8te

  2. Great idea and keep pressin' on, Veronica! I was absolutely sickened by what seemed like vitriol hurled at you. The whole idea you put forward was lost. One of my neighbors calls it diversion. The Advoc8te hit the nail on the head about folks losing their fight and picking a fight on something else.

    I'm glad you received great feedback directly and I look forward to participating in this effort!


  3. @The Advoc8te... You made a really good point that it's not the name that scares people, but the thought of change. Someone sent me a private email stating that the people attacking me are always negative. The reality is that we aren't going to get the things we want in our neighborhood if we just complain. Especially in this economy, we have to be creative and be willing to try new things.

    @Deanwooddenizen.... thanks so much for your support. I just check my email and I'm so energized by all emails of people really trying to make this challenge work. I think in the process we will discover amenities in our neighborhoods that we didn't even know existed.