“They don’t even want to call it ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ no more. Renamed it ‘Clinton.'”

 by:  Peter J. Gallagher

This line comes from one of my favorite movies — State of Grace.  The movie is set in Hell's Kitchen, and the neighborhood is a key part of the story, which involves Sean Penn's character returning to his old neighborhood and reconnecting with his old friend (Gary Oldman) and their existence just outside the law as members of the Westies.  (No need for a spoiler alert since I won't be ruining the end of the movie, but it is a good one.)  I thought about this movie and all of the other movies set in an older, grittier New York when I read an article in the New York Times ("ProCro, SoBro, FiDi, BoCoCa: A Lawmaker Says 'Enough'").  Although my initial thought was that it will be difficult to film a "gritty" movie in New York because of how far the city has come in the past 30 years (think Travis Bickle driving the Cash Cab), the article actually discusses a bill proposed by a city councilman that would punish real-estate agents for inventing new names for old neighborhoods. 

The article notes that the "abbreviation floodgates" opened not too long ago when SoHo first made an appearance in the 1960's and TriBeCa followed in the 1970s.  Critics of more recent attempts at neighborhood re-branding claim that neighborhoods have a history and character that should not be ignored just because realtors think it will be easier to market properties in that neighborhood under a different name (i.e., ProCro, which is is what some realtors now call the borderlands of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights).  Not everyone agrees, however, including Lockhart Steele, the founder of the blog Curbed, who noted: “Neighborhood names and the coining thereof is a quintessentially New York activity that should be encouraged, not discouraged . . . Telling people not to is like telling New Yorkers they can’t have hot dogs in the street.” 

One final note.  Lest you be too quick to hold on to the names of the past, consider the following former neighborhood names and whether you prefer them to the modern iterations — Hell’s Hundred Acres (SoHo), the Gas House District (Stuyvesant Town), and Bloomingdale (the Upper West Side).

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