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.

New Yorkers love possible, and one dubious hallmark of that optimism is gentrification. Creative-class New Yorkers are infamous for occupying struggling neighborhoods in the outer boroughs and outlying areas like Jersey City. They’re doing it in Philly, too. New Yorkers, realtors told me, are renovating houses in areas of Germantown, East Passyunk, Point Breeze, and sundry zip codes that few thought could be revived by any economic engine. And truthfully, they still might not.

“Neighborhoods change a lot more slowly in Philadelphia than they do in New York,” Christopher Plant, a realtor at Elfant Wissahickon, tells me. “But once New Yorkers hit Philadelphia, they tend to have this renewed optimism. And besides, they’re networkers, and they’re used to working really hard. A lot of them are pulling it off.”

It turns out that a lot of those who are pulling it off—in real estate and beyond—are originally from here. Indeed, the trend has accrued such critical mass that at least in the Department of Commerce’s Office of Business Attraction and Retention, some officials have cooled their long-held efforts to stymie Philly’s braindrain. “Let them go and do time in New York or Los Angeles, let them gain business and life experience,” director Karen Randal explains. “When they’re ready, they come back and realize what a great city Philadelphia is, and they bring their expertise, business and enthusiasm back here and help pump in new life.”

Christopher Plant is himself an NY-Delphian. After attending Temple in the late 1980s, he moved to New York and, as a partner in the successful art and performance space Galapagos, helped revive Williamsburg, then a dangerous mix of addicts and Hasidic families. Upon moving back to Philly in 2002, Plant recast himself as a civic booster, launching guerrilla campaigns to lure Brooklynites here and becoming an active board member of local non-profits, including the Franklin’s Paine Skatepark, which breaks ground this month near the Art Museum and will purportedly be the largest in the country.

Amanda Steinberg is another. The 34-year-old founder and CEO of DailyWorth.com—an online women’s financial advice site with 350,000 subscribers—is a Center City native who, like me, went to Baldwin in Bryn Mawr before graduating from Columbia in the ’90s. We didn’t know each other then, but our stories are almost identical: We wanted a less costly, more humane pace of life for our families, but we needed to be close to New York for work.

“I’m living out the existential mogul fantasy,” she confides over scones at Cake, a Chestnut Hill bakery that we both peg as being “like Baked in Red Hook, if it were in Park Slope.” Steinberg confesses relief at “not having to walk out of the house every morning with a perfect blow-out and keratin treatment” but still being able to head a high-powered operation: “I get to run a New York-based business, but live and do most of my work in this beautiful, affordable, family-friendly neighborhood with excellent schools, and spend time with my kids.”

Same thing for Anne Rivers, whose toddler daughter will attend my three-year-old son’s daycare, Summit Children’s Program in West Mount Airy, this fall. (A side note: When I mentioned I was writing this st­ory, a dozen NY-Delphian parents e-mailed me their cell phone numbers, all with New York area codes. Look, you can’t expect us to go completely cold-turkey.) With longtime Pennsylvania roots, Rivers heads up brand strategy consulting at the New York-based firm BAV Consulting. Her story mirrors Steinberg’s, mine and scads of others: moved for quality of life after living in New York for more than a decade. “I end up doing a lot of networking on the train from Philadelphia to New York with people in a similar work-life situation,” she says, chuckling. Rivers is open to scouting possibilities for a Philadelphia office for her division.