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.

If things haven’t been possible for small businesses and creative-class entrepreneurs in New York for years, they frankly haven’t been possible in Philly either until recently. But with new tax laws (including attractive tax credits for job creation, as well as a two-year exemption from city privilege taxes for businesses that create a certain number of new jobs), Philadelphia promises by 2014 to be downright friendly to those employing 20 people or fewer, in hopes that those that succeed will stay. (Premise: Amazon and Microsoft were once small, too.) This is what prospective New York transplants, many of whom run small creative-class operations, want to hear.

There might be good reasons to set up shop here besides taxes. In the many conversations I’ve had with entrepreneurs and city officials, I’ve found an emerging business culture that seems to operate on the Malcolm Gladwellian principle of “co­nnectors”—people who network to help each other succeed—that stands in stark contrast to the New York style of stockpiling and safeguarding such connections.

That’s the credo of Philadelphia’s most famous co-working space, Independents Hall in Old City. An amorphous slipstream of independents of various stripes pays monthly or daily fees for desk space and wi-fi connections, but mostly for the everyday kismet of work connections: finding work and help from officemates. Many are NY-Delphians. And in the experience of 29-year-old founder Alex Hillman, this “connector” principle isn’t native to Philadelphia: It was imported, then incubated and hatched here.


Hillman says he was recently on a group panel before a packed crowd, discussing how to set up successful co-working spaces in Philadelphia. “Someone in the audience raised his hand and asked us if we’d always lived in Philadelphia,” Hillman says. “None of us had. And it turned out that almost no one in the room had, either.”

“It reminds me of all the World War II vets who came back to Philadelphia and decided to change it—the police corruption, the crime, schools,” muses Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz. “People told them, ‘It’s impossible.’ And these guys said, ‘We’ve just had bullets flying at us—we can handle Philly.’”

That seems like a pretty tall order. For one thing, transplants obviously have some work to do in the city’s public-school sy­stem. New Yorkers have a history of turning failing schools around, but such PTAs are typically led by rich moms, or at least those who haven’t had to work outside the home, and Philadelphia’s schools need a lot of work—more than many dual-income couples can put in. Still, maybe after we NY-Delphians pick ourselves up financially, we’ll have the wherewithal to roll up our sleeves.

As for me, I can finally pay my mortgage and utility bills. Within weeks of moving here, I was offered an armful of teaching gigs, at colleges and literary centers. Someone I recently met threw my family a party to introduce us to all the NY-Delphians she knew in Chestnut Hill; more than 10 families welcomed us. Everyone I’ve met has helped me find work. I’m beginning to think I can make it, which is more than I’ve been able to say in five years.

On the day we moved in, our neighbors brought us homemade bread and tarts. My girls and I stared. Finally, my older daughter spoke up. “Our neighbors used to spray-paint our house,” she said. “Now, our neighbors want us here.” And then we all cried.

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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?