6 Ways Philly Really Is a World-Class City

The Spaniards who said we’re one of the smartest cities on the planet are on to something.



“After walking about it for an hour or two, I felt I would have given the world for a crooked street,” Charles Dickens wrote of his visit to Philadelphia in 1842 in his book American Notes.

He just didn’t walk far enough — all he had to do was cross what was then the city line into Southwark or Northern Liberties and he would have found some.

Dickens may not have been terribly impressed by Philadelphia, or the rest of America for that matter, but other Europeans who have followed in his footsteps have had different reactions. Perhaps it’s because they may recognize a little bit of home in this city’s streetscapes and customs. In fact, there are some who say this is the most European of all American cities.

While there are plenty of Philadelphians who have never strayed far from the place of their birth, those who have — many of whom decided they liked the place enough to stick around — have taken it international in a big way. They probably helped Philly achieve that high “International Outreach” score the researchers at the IESE Business School at the University of Navarra in Spain gave this city on their way to ranking it as the 11th-smartest city in the world and second-smartest in the U.S. behind New York in its Cities in Motion Index. But — perhaps unbeknownst to you — we’ve had a bit of the global in us all along. Here are some of the ways in which Philly has a touch of the world about it:

With a little more thought, I think we could come up with even more examples of this city’s surprisingly cosmopolitan vibe. Why not list them in the comments?

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  • Dennis Fairbrother

    How about in sports: strong traditions of grass-court tennis, crew, rugby, even cricket (still played weekly in front of Memorial Hall) not to mention a world-class soccer stadium in Chester.

  • Allie

    Beer Week starts next Friday, FYI.

    • Brian Howard

      Good catch. Fixed!

  • MetalDog

    Bike lanes.

  • DTurner

    I don’t know why this is surprising, the biggest Negadelphians are the folks that live or lived in NE and are seeing its peripheries get significantly worse. While that’s certainly a problem, that’s like viewing NYC through the lens of the Bronx or Staten Island resident.

  • Guest

    Calling it center city” instead of “downtown” (like German and Austrian “Zentrum”).

  • D220

    Calling it “center city” instead of “downtown” (like “zentrum” in Germany and Austria).

  • DTurner

    Agreed, Philly definitely has a lot of room for improvement, but it’s a great city. I moved back from the DC and Philly is a heck of a lot more interesting.

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  • JT

    Philly”s inferiority complex holds the city back from getting the real recognition it deserves.

  • kclo3

    Don’t forget about the fine arts scene – We have the single largest collection of Renoirs anywhere in the world, and further extensive collections found in PMA, Barnes, and Rodin Museums. The Philadelphia Orchestra has had decades-long relationships with internationally recognized conductors, as American as Stokowski or European as Sawallisch; they’re currently on tour in China right now, the only American orchestra to have 35 years of partnership with the country. The Curtis Institute and PAFA are also internationally recognized as leaders in their art.
    One of the few things we don’t have is tourism, which, although being a negative towards potential revenue and funding sustainability, means our streets aren’t quite as filled with disoriented tourists.