Har­lem not so crazy about “Soha” la­bel

Trendy acro­nym triv­i­al­izes cul­ture, some res­i­dents say

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Deepti Ha­jela and Michael No­ble Jr.

NEW YORK» In Har­lem, a furor has erupted over what was sup­posed to be a sim­ple, catchy acro­nym: Soha.

An at­tempt by some busi­nesses and real es­tate pro­fes­sion­als to re­brand the south­ern part of the neigh­bor­hood as Soha has been greeted by many res­i­dents as an af­front to a cap­i­tal of African-amer­i­can cul­ture and his­tory.

They say it smacks of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion that has in­creas­ingly seen dif­fer­ent de­mo­graph­ics com­ing into the area along with ris­ing me­dian rents, which have in­creased since 2000 from $710 a month to $1,050. That sec­tion of Har­lem stretches from Cen­tral Park to 125th Street and in­cludes such land­marks as the Ho­tel Theresa, which hosted such fig­ures as Muham­mad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mal­colm X.

“Har­lem is a trea­sure of New York,” said Rep. Adri­ano Es­pail­lat, whose con­gres­sional dis­trict in­cludes the area. “I, along with lead­ers and con­stituents of this com­mu­nity, stand united to vig­or­ously op­pose the re­nam­ing of Har­lem in yet an­other sanc­tioned gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.”

New York City is filled with neigh­bor­hood names al­tered by real es­tate pro­fes­sion­als and de­vel­op­ers to cre­ate ca­chet, some of which have stuck more than oth­ers. There’s Soho (for south of Hous­ton Street), Nolita (north of Lit­tle Italy), Tribeca (tri­an­gle be­low Canal) and Dumbo (down un­der the Man­hat­tan Bridge over­pass), just to name a few.

Oc­ca­sional ref­er­ences to Soha as a neigh­bor­hood date back al­most 20 years but have picked up steam re­cently, in­clud­ing on lo­cal busi­nesses, such as the real es­tate agency Keller Wil­liams NYC, which used Soha for the team of real es­tate agents fo­cus­ing on the area.

Keller Wil­liams this past week told The Wall Street Jour­nal it had de­cided to change the team name out of re­spect and pas­sion for the area’s peo­ple, his­tory and cul­ture. It is now listed on its web­site as “Cen­tral Har­lem.”

Tif­fany Si­mone, 54, has ex­pe­ri­enced the out­rage first­hand.

A life­time res­i­dent of the area, Si­mone and a few other peo­ple took over a flea mar­ket in the area a few years ago and called it the Soha Square Mar­ket. She says it was ac­tu­ally a ref­er­ence to the idea that their mar­ket was “so Har­lem,” and also a girl’s name mean­ing “star.”

But so many peo­ple com­plained about it, think­ing she was adopt­ing the Soha moniker, that she ended up chang­ing the name to the Har­lem Square Open-air Mar­ket.

“I de­cided it wasn’t worth it,” said Si­mone, who is black. “This is the com­mu­nity I’m from, and the last thing I want to do is of­fend my com­mu­nity.”

Casey Tucker, 24, who moved to Har­lem last year, is among those firmly against the name.

“I feel like I live in Har­lem. Not Soha.”

Kathy Wil­lens, AP

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