Why New Yorkers Are Moving to Philly and What It Means for Our City

After 9/11, scores of tired, disenchanted and financially strapped New Yorkers began moving into Philadelphia to begin new lives. Here, one Big Apple transplant explains what the influx has wrought.

Since 9/11, New Yorkers have been moving into Philadelphia.

“8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place To Live,” ran the headline. A photo showed seething traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, gridlocked with moving vans and U-Hauls, with the explanatory text: “Citizens in each of the five boroughs packed up their belongings and told reporters they would rather blow their brains out with a shotgun than spend another waking moment in this festering cesspool of filth and scum and sadness.”

The headline was fake, and the newspaper was the Onion. But on September 2, 2010, as I sat in my crappy 1,100-square-foot hovel in Brooklyn—where neighborhood gangs regularly tagged my fence and chucked 40s into my yard—I laughed until I peed. And then I lay down on the floor and cried.




I’d lived in New York for nearly a quarter of a century. Things were possible then. You could be a clothes designer and open your own boutique in the East Village. Your band could start up a bar in Williamsburg. You could get your friends to swing a hammer and build a theater company in a work-live loft in Tribeca. After graduating from Columbia in the early 1990s, I worked like a nut at a journalism career, wrote two books published by fancy ho­uses, was on TV a bunch. Later, I had my three young children in Brooklyn, and a crew of mom friends whose children and mine would romp in our living-cum-dining rooms. My life and New York City were a double helix of fabulous.

Then, in late 2007, the recession and my divorce converged. I was 39 and financially responsible for my children. I moved from progressive (read: expensive) Park Slope to edgy (read: less expensive) Red Hook. I lived in fear of foreclosure every month. The lights were shut off on more than one occasion. I qualified for food stamps. I grew vegetables in my anemic yard—not because I was some urban beekeeping eco-vore, but because I couldn’t afford to buy decent produce. By 2010, the only homeowners I knew who weren’t selling for liquid capital were high-financiers or trustafarians. And rents were untenable.

“This place sucks. … It just fucking sucks” was the sham Woody Allen Onion quote. It hit me: I can’t live in New York. Then I was struck by the meta grand piano from a three-story building: What about … Philly?

Honestly, the thought stank. I grew up on the Main Line and was snobbed out by the generations-deep blue-blood apparatus, so when I came of age in the late ’80s, I moved to Center City and attended Temple. Back then, Philly loomed like a menacing, crack-glutted acropolis, and I felt lucky I wasn’t raped or killed wandering around alone, as I often did. When I transferred to Columbia in 1989, I knew for sure: I was never, ever coming back.

But 20-odd years later, it was incontrovertible: Those of us with young families, in the so-called creative class—entrepreneurs, writers, editors, techies, graphics designers, teachers, small-firm ad execs and marketers, architects, anyone in the arts—were now high-status, poorly paid culture workers who could no longer afford to live in New York, especially with children. Things no longer seemed possible because they weren’t.

I could sell my house in a sketchy neighborhood for $860,000, buy a four-bedroom in Chestnut Hill for $340,000, and even after paying off my massive mortgage and Denali of debt still have a six-month nest egg that would enable me to contribute to private school. (I’d exchanged child support for tuition.) So what if Philly was slow, bankrupt and provincial? Just deal with it, I told myself.

I was wrong. Thankfully, very wrong.

It’s not news that New Yorkers have been infiltrating Philly for more than a decade. There was an understandable migratory spike after 9/11, and then, about six years ago, a flurry of articles about how New Yorkers in their 20s were descending on neighborhoods like Fishtown and Northern Liberties in the insultingly termed “Sixth Borough.” While the scope of the New York influx may have been unduly glamorized, the numbers aren’t laughable.

Since 2006, the official number of New Yorkers moving here per year—gleaned from tax returns, the IRS being the only source for such stats—has been in the 3,000s; in 2010, the official migration number was 3,095. But because the IRS misses swaths of people due to perennial filing boondoggles, Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts, estimates that a more realistic annual number is somewhere in the 4,000s.

So consider this: Even if the numbers plateau, in five years, potentially 20,000 more New Yorkers will be calling Philly home, in addition to the nearly 25,000 who already have in the past six. The city is growing, even though droves of Philadelphians are still moving out of the city every year (around 50,000 per year since 2006, according to Eichel’s research). While transplants move here from all over, it’s worth noting that on some scale, New Yorkers are becoming the new Philadelphians. And even if a sizeable handful are commuting to Manhattan for work, NYC transplants are still shopping here, buying homes here, paying taxes here, sending their kids to school here—and changing the economic and cultural landscape of the city.

Meet your new neighbors: the NY-Delphians.

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  • Christian Harris

    There are some great public schools in Philly, you just have to find them.

    • Inquizative

      Yes, there is. Central High, where my son goes, is an excellent choice. I suggest to first try to find a “public” school first. Those charter schools, I don’t trust because they are profit driven and when that’s the case, profit comes before education.

  • anonymous

    IT’S CALLED INDEPENDENCE HALL YOU SMUG BITCH.

  • KG18

    So wait… they talked about the diversity of where they live in Philly – but questioned why they would want to live in Queens???? Queens is the most diverse place in the United States!!

    • Danielle Thomas

      Philly is Not Diverse.

      We are a City of Neighborhoods and if you are not of the same race as that neighborhood people there can make you feel Very uncomfortable; like some years ago Kensington was a neighborhood that if a Black person, even a lone female, merely walked through she might get beat up by whatever Whites saw her, including White children, and even in the afternoon on a very public street. Many of those White people still live in Kensington and neighborhoods like Kensington, and raised their children to be of the same barbarous racist mindset. So although, you may not be beat up they can; nevertheless, make you feel very uncomfortable, including trashing your house.

      Philly still has a way to go when it comes to diversity but they have improved.

  • cmp

    hey anonymous – you’re an idiot. There is the well known Independence Hall you speak of, but there is also the Indy Hall she speaks of. Why don’t you take 5 seconds to google before you spew crap from your mouth. (p.s. to the author – your NYC ways may be strange and different from ours, but we’re glad to have you back in philly)

  • Illidelphia

    I think the moral of this story is this: It’s always better to live in a place that’s underrated than a place that’s overrated. Welcome to Philly, you must have good taste. That being said, what separates the cool, gritty, artsy, hip culture in Philly from the swanky, vain elitism of much of NYC is the fact that the vast majority of us still believe dropping $300 on a sun dress is stupid. Once there is a critical mass of people like you, Philly will start to feel a lot like NYC: out of touch and pointlessly overpriced.

  • Gus

    My beautiful Philadelphia!!! On the Rise….i’m moving back from New York.

  • Charles

    Loving the fact that Philadelphia is once again recognized as on of the fastest growing cities, I have decided to move my Family and my business back home! Great oppurtunities are looming there for the smart investor. Just think about what you’ve been paying, and what you could be paying now…”Yes to Philly” I’m on my way!!!

  • http://www.paxlistings.com/ PaxListings

    Philadelphia is a good place to live.People are prefer to move to the Philadelphia due to the reasons like food,sports,diverse neighborhoods, and low cost of living.As Charles said Great opportunities are looming there for the smart investor. If you’re looking for affordable living, then it’s time to move to Philadelphia- America’s next great city.

  • tsol

    “Citizens in each of the five boroughs packed up their belongings and
    told reporters they would rather blow their brains out with a shotgun
    than spend another waking moment in this festering cesspool of filth and
    scum and sadness.”

    Exactly how I felt about Philly when I lived there in the 90s. A more hateful, narrow-minded, peasant-suspicious unwelcoming violent place I’ve never seen in my entire life. Just stay the fuck away from the Italians, Irish, blacks and everyone else and you’ll be ok. Also stay away from the crass NE Philly, Cherry Hill and Manayunk imbeciles. And watch out for the snobby, arrogant elitist Penn professors and students and the patronizing Main Liners, Chestnut Hill and Rittenhouse Square residents.

    In fact, fuck Philly and all of it’s inbred urban yokel natives.

    • Inquizative

      Initially I though of writing a kind letter to you. Then I thought, maybe he’s too overwhelmed with anger and emotion. Wow, what could have happened? Take care, and I hope you find happiness elsewhere.
      -A typical Philly person, peace!

    • LoverNHater

      Why are Italians or even Irish on the list? ;)

      • Danielle Thomas

        Because, like many Whites in Philly they definitely belong there!

  • Gerald Kolpan

    I moved here from New York in 1970.

    Our cool places and unique neighborhoods aren’t a New York “version” of ANYTHING considering that most of them were already operational when Harlem was a farmer’s field.

    And trust me, if New York had places like 9th street and Reading Terminal Market, they long ago would have become havens for tourists and rich schmucks.

    The thing most New Yorkers take years to figure out is that in Philly, family, clan and neighborhood come first and money is a very distant second. In Philadelphia, Donald Trump would be seen for what he is – a stupid vulgarian – and nobody, rich or poor, would talk to him.

    Let’s face it: New York lost it’s soul…its little book stores, it’s curio shops, its funky restaurants, its beatnik bars and Greek coffee shops…years ago. Now it’s a lot like everywhere else only completely unaffordable unless you’re one of those aforementioned rich schmucks.

    It’s still real here, folks. I hope we can keep it that way.

    • realposter

      what are you talking about? No Greek coffee shops?? Ever been to Astoria? “funky restaurants”? what does that even mean? PPl got restaurants to eat good food… and there is plenty of it from every corner of the globe. Whether it’s Russian food in Brighton Beach to Korean food in Flushing to Puerto Rican anywhere in The Bronx or seafood on City Island… you’re just off.

      you basically just sound jealous. Donald Trump didn’t grow up in Philly… and nobody in NY even pays him much attention… That’s you out of towners who watch too much television.

      • Brophy

        I think what he means is that there are very few “authentic” places left in NYC. The allure of NYC, at least for me, was the rich history of every corner, the music clubs in the city, the identifiable neighborhoods,etc… Sure, there’s Russian/Korean/Spanish restaurants here, but many of them have opened up within the past 5-10 years. You can find those restaurants in any big city. The restaurants and places that made NYC unique are disappearing. Most of the neighborhood bars are gone. Any music club that doesn’t cater to electronic music/hip-hop is gone. As a native NYer, I can’t stand the fact that everything in this city has been built to attract tourists. Those “funky restaurants” have largely been run out by restaurant chains, skyrocketing rents, and/or Bloomberg’s relentless fines. NYC is beginning to look like Disneyland and all the things that native New Yorkers loved are nearly extinct. If I could find a good everything bagel outside of NYC, I’d have already moved myself.

        • realposter

          the only ppl I hear complain is the ppl who can’t afford their rent. the vast majority of ppl enjoy the improved quality of life. i have no idea what you re trying to say if you think there are no identifiable neighborhoods. Guess what – things change. cities work by supply and demand. there is great demand foR NYC from all around the world… so it’s expensive. it’s really that simple.
          if you don’t like it you should move to “any big cITY”. Are you with a straight face going to tell me living in houston or Las vegas is in any way like living in NYc or Philly itself?