Sunday, May 10, 2009

Little Ireland?

So NYC and Co (the marketing arm of the city), are coming up with a campaign to get people to visit the ethnic neighborhoods. I won't comment on the rationale behind this - that's for the Village Voice. They did do a pretty good job of picking out 9 neighborhoods - 2 from each borough, except Staten Island which gets one, with ethnicities representing five continents and about a dozen languages. And they even got at least 4 of the neighborhood names right.

Now, I am not a huge "true and proper neighborhood name" snob, who argues over the boundary of Crown Heights and Prospect Heights and gets upset when someone says "Clinton" on the West Side of Manhattan. I've always said on my tours that neighborhoods are only half an actual geographic location and half a state of mind. But there is a difference between a neighborhood name that will provoke an argument among New Yorkers, and a name they won't even recognize. And there's a least 2 in there that will make even a licensed NYC tour guide go "where?"

A quick rundown follows. This is only about the neighborhood names - not about if the map NYC & Co has represents the correct borders of the neighborhood. Writing about that would be a small book.


Astoria, Brighton Beach, Flatbush, Jackson Heights.


El Barrio/Spanish Harlem. I've heard some people, mostly older Puerto Rican residents of the neighborhood, refuse to call the place anything other than "East Harlem." Still, every New Yorker will recognize Spanish Harlem, and most will recognize El Barrio. However, I've never, ever, heard anyone refer to the place as "El Barrio" in an actual real life sentence, only in things like online neighborhood tourist guides. Being a tourist and asking someone "which way to El Barrio" will definitely invoke some snickers and eye rolling.

Koreatown. I've always heard it referred to as "Little Korea," but whatever. I think they probably figured there were already too many "Little x,y or z" neighborhoods on the list and went with Koreatown instead.

Little Italy. This is kind of weird. The neighborhood name is Belmont, but a lot of people say Arthur Avenue or Little Italy in the Bronx. But it's always "Little Italy in the Bronx," not "Little Italy." If you ask a New Yorker to meet you for dinner in "Little Italy" 100% of them, including those living on Arthur Avenue, will go to Mulberry Street.

Little Sri Lanka. OK, I'm going to confess I don't really know about this one. I know there's a few restaurants and a small community somewhere around the Ferry Terminal (St. George? Tompinksville? I'm not too up on Staten Island neighborhoods). I have zero idea if this area is referred to "Little Sri Lanka" by anyone other than NYC and Co. I'm going to ask a few Staten Islanders I know before I take it out of "questionable" and throw it down into "100% wrong." Regardless, I doubt one New Yorker in 100 could tell you where "Little Sri Lanka" is. And if you're going to make up a name, make it a little more euphonic than "Little Sri Lanka," which just sounds lazy ("hey Joe, what should we call that Sri Lankan area in Staten Island?" "I don't know Frank - how about Little Sri Lanka. Come on, the game's about to start"). Any ideas?

100% Wrong:

Little Ireland
. OK, this is just ridiculous. First, the neighborhood already has a perfectly serviceable name, which is Woodlawn. NYC & Co don't call Astoria "Little Greece" or Brighton Beach "Little Odessa" (which is actually used way more often than "Little Ireland"), or Flatbush "Little Jamaica." Now, you might say that it's because the above neighborhoods are actually pretty multiethnic, which is true, but so is Woodlawn. Second, fewer New Yorkers would probably recognize "Little Ireland" than "Little Sri Lanka." Third, if you want to get historical with it, into at least the 1960s "Little Ireland" referred to a different neighborhood in the Bronx - south Riverdale, near Gaelic Park.

And fourth, referring to a neighborhood as "Little whatever" generally means only the restaurants remain, if anything else even existed in the first place. There are no Koreans in Little Korea (or Koreatown) there are no Brazilians in Little Brazil, and there are definitely no Italians in Little Italy - not the NYC and Co. version of Little Italy, though, which still has a few. But there are most definitely Irish in Woodlawn - so holdup on dubbing it "Little Ireland" for a while.

For some in depth numbers on the suppositions in this last paragraph, check out my other blog.


  1. Yeah I was surprised 2 c the ad in Brooklyn w/ all these names. Ok I c what they're tryin 2 do.

    1. Interesting looking back at this now. Surprised that it happened.

  2. You literally didn't even make anything close to any sort of sensible point in this post.

  3. I disagree with the little Italy part. If my friends say lets meet up in Little Italy I go straight to Arthur ave. Maybe it's because I live in the Bronx and that is a part of my neighborhood. So its by no means 100% of the time.

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