“If you’ve seen Liberty Bell and had a cheesesteak, you’ve likely spent a day in Philadelphia.” So begins Zillow’s list of 10 reasons to move to Philadelphia, published last week by a blog of the online real estate database. As it so happens, I live a few blocks from Liberty Bell and even closer to quite a few places to have a cheesesteak. I’ve spent a day in Philadelphia, then! (And also around 5,000 more.)
Outsider guides to Philadelphia always seem off—and of course they do. “10 Reasons” -type lists (even by writers here) involve by definition a heaping of personal bias and guesswork; when they come from an out-of-the-area publication, there’s a greater chance a Philadelphian will read it and get so shocked he’ll drop his cheesesteak right onto the top of the Liberty Bell.
But there’s no need to tear these pieces to shreds; after all, they’re primarily positive articles on the City of Philadelphia, a place we all love (or at least live here).
Let’s go through Zillow’s 10 reasons to move to Philadelphia.
1. Affordable urban living
Okay, sure. Philadelphia is cheaper than other big East Coast cities, while offering most if not all of the same amenities. (Our Barcade has NBA Jam!) Good. What goes unmentioned here (and elsewhere) is how much more of the city is now desirable to live in. Take the “Fishtown renaissance.” The New York Times recently labeled Fette Sau as the driver of the creative renaissance, because of course it did. But let me posit an alternative theory: Pizza is the real reason people who were scared to live in Fishtown five years ago will now move there. By my calculations, 78 new pizza places have opened in Fishtown in the last 18 months, with a Mega Pizzeria involving the people from Joe’s on the way. I haven’t had pizza at all 78 new pizza joints, but even if five percent of them are good, that’s probably enough. The number one reason I wouldn’t move to West Philly is the lack of good pizza options. Dock Street, and what? New Style? No doubt most feel the same way I do. Pizza lovers drive our economy (note: conjecture), and their ability to move to Fishtown has reignited the area.
2. Families don’t have to move to the burbs
This is the part of the list that Simon Van Zuylen-Wood flagged as having a troubling photo choice late last week, but he also noticed the sheer silliness of the entry given the current state Philadelphia’s school district. It’s a weird point —even for a site that exists to sell real estate—since schools are an oft-mentioned reason to move to the suburbs.
3. Families embracing the city again
The site flags the city’s parks and museums as good reasons to live in the city. Unfortunately it only names Franklin Square as a place to visit, a park that is convenient to residents of Metro Club and no other Philadelphians, but, eh, it has a mini-golf course so it’s a not the worst place to name. Still, while many parks are in fantastic shape and have amazing playground equipment — Dickinson Square Park is fantastic, what a lot of parks could aspire to if they were sentient beings — there aren’t any rocket ship slides anymore. When I was a kid, we’d steal wax paper from the ACME and use it to make the already kinda dangerous slide even faster. I fear kids today are missing out.
4. You can live in a cool converted warehouse
Okay, sure. But what about living in a church in Manayunk? I know, I know: I’m not sold on the pizza there, either. Couch Tomato, and what? Riverside?
5. You can’t go wrong with a classic cheesesteak
The Zillow post is not wrong when it says that “several locals… claim Geno’s is the best place to get a cheesesteak in town.” True. At least several locals claim that. But a much greater number claim other places. (Steve’s or Mike’s, for me.) Anyway, you can go wrong with a classic cheesesteak, as evidenced by the waist size of the pants I wore from roughly 2008 to 2010.
6. Ambitious chefs and exotic flavors
Now hold on just a minute! One point ago all Philadelphians needed was a cheesesteak. We could indeed not go wrong with it! Now I’m being told there are ambitious chefs and exotic flavors, too?
It’s apropos this follows the cheesesteak point. If there is one food that Philadelphians do not think should be made in any ambitious way, it is a cheesesteak. I get it, of course — green or red peppers on a cheesesteak?! — but I do believe in culinary experimentation. Even for our beloved cheesesteak. (Not that I’m interested in trying any of them.)
7. You really don’t need a car
True again! SEPTA does have rapid transit down three of our biggest streets (Market, Frankford and Broad), regional rail’s decent, the trolleys serve West Philly pretty well and also there are incredibly useful buses I never ride. But here’s what’s weird about Philly: The transit is just obnoxious enough to use that it’s tempting to just stay in your quadrant of the city and not venture to other areas. When’s the last time you saw your friends from West Philly? Unless you live in West Philly, probably not very recently! And you pretty much only see people from Fairmount you’re interested in dating. Philadelphia’s walkability can be a dangerous thing.
8. Everyone likes to be first
I guess it’s nice Philadelphia celebrates its history. But, man, is it boring. I really don’t think it helps current Philadelphia residents to know admission to America’s first zoo was once a quarter. And even the Liberty Bell doesn’t do it for me. It’s just a bell commissioned for the state house. Did it deflect bullets during the Revolutionary War? Did we hit King George over the head with it to end the war? Much like the story of Betsy Ross sewing the first flag, the tale of the Liberty Bell ringing on the 4th of July isn’t true. Independence Hall—now there’s a place where some history happened! Too bad it’s guarded 24/7 by angry park rangers.
8. Saving a buck is in
Except at Geno’s, where a cheesesteak costs $9.50.
9. One of the world’s largest urban parks
To be fair, though, it’s pretty annoying to get to the best parts of Fairmount Park without a car.
10. You can channel your inner boxer
I liked this from Philebrity: “No one in the world has ever thought to themselves ‘You know, I wasn’t going to move to Philadelphia, but Rocky was a movie that existed so count me in.’” But I’m guessing that’s only true for Americans. Rocky (along with Will Smith, and Allen Iverson among basketball fans) is one of the few things foreigners know about our fine city! I’m willing to bet some Eastern European dude moved here because of it. Then he went to Geno’s, didn’t order because he was flustered by the “Speak English” sign and ended up moving to the suburbs. Sigh.