The controversial banner. Image via MapmanNo1.

Earlier this week, Columbia Heights residents raised alarm about proposed banners giving the name “Tivoli North” to the area along 14th Street between Monroe Street and Shepherd Street. Many people turned out to ANC 1A’s meeting on Wednesday, where the ANC voted to rescind its prior approval of the banner design in a 7-1 vote, with 2 abstentions.

The idea for the banners came from the Tivoli North Business Association. Until January the group was known as the Mid-14th Street Business Association, but rebranded itself due to potential confusion with the MidCity Business Association centered on the 14th and U area.

The initial designs for the banners prominently displayed “Tivoli North” above “Columbia Heights.” The ANC rejected this design in February. In March, the ANC approved for a new design that placed greater emphasis on “Columbia Heights” (as shown in picture). Neighborhood opposition to the inclusion of “Tivoli North” on any banner grew after the ANC’s March meeting, leading the ANC to reconsider the issue. Hector Gomez, who leads the business association, indicated during the meeting that his organization would not sponsor banners without “Tivoli North” on them, but after being voted down by the ANC, he indicated that there may be room for compromise.

Some misleading emails began circulating on April 1 indicating that ANC 1A was scheduled to rename the entire neighborhood of Columbia Heights. This led to confusion on the listservs and among a few meeting attendees, but it soon became clear that most speakers in opposition understood the issue at hand and objected to what amounted to the approval of a “subneighborhood” within and beyond Columbia Heights, extending north of Spring Road to Shepherd Street.

“We’re not so stupid to think that the ANC has the power to rename Columbia Heights,” Sherman Avenue resident Tania Jackson told the ANC. She went on to note that rebrandings within a neighborhood occur when an area attempts to run away from a bad reputation. “People wanted to call U Street Dupont East. And now that U Street is fashionable, everyone wants to be called U Street. Columbia Heights is improving. Many people have worked hard to build this brand. Why would you want to disassociate from that?”

Identity matters, even when it’s not official. Columbia Heights has a strong identity, and most residents saw even a minor and unofficial name change along a small retail corridor as an attempt to run away from the strengthening brand of Columbia Heights. Another concern was the limited scope of the banners; many residents argued that the banners should include all of 14th Street in Columbia Heights, not just the northern section.

Finally, an overwhelming number of attendees were upset by the lack of communication by the ANC and the Tivoli North Business Association about the proposal. It was this last criticism that seemed to catch the the ANC and the business association most off guard. However, it’s hardly shocking that residents wouldn’t know about the workings of the ANC when its own website doesn’t even contain the most recent agenda. Did the ANC and the business association learn their lessons last night about the loyalty of residents to the Columbia Heights name and the importance of communicating beyond a select set of local leaders? When a new banner proposal emerges in the neighborhood, we will know for sure.