What The New York Times Gets Wrong About Philadelphia

We aren't just Rocky and cheesesteaks. Hopefully, by the 2016 DNC, the New York Times and other national pubs will get it.

Once, Philadelphia did lose to New York.

OK, not “once” — it’s happened lots of times. But this big one was in 1946. Looking back on it, it seems incredible: Philadelphia was going to be the headquarters of the United Nations. It was almost a done deal! The UN would be in downtown Philadelphia if not for John D. Rockefeller’s last-minute gift of the site on the East River where the UN headquarters stands today.

Besides sports, this is the last time I can figure New York beat out Philadelphia on a major scale. Too bad that not too many people know about it. Literally: The academic journal I linked above actually opens with the sentence, “It is not usually remembered that Philadelphia was almost selected in 1946 to be the permanent headquarters of the United Nations.” And that was written in 1976! The story has faded even more since then. I didn’t learn of this incident — this theft! — until I was well into my twenties.

And, you know, thank God. Sometimes I think about this and wonder what Philadelphia would be like if it had gotten the UN HQ. Center City Philadelphia, where I’ve lived for almost 10 years, would be a much different place had the UN placed its headquarters here. The plan was to put it near Independence Hall.

And yet, we have an inferiority complex. At least per the New York Times.

Yesterday, Philadelphia was selected as the host for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It beat out Columbus, Ohio — best known for being the corporate headquarters of White Castle — and Brooklyn for the honor. As you may have read yesterday, I am stoked.

But people in New York aren’t. According to the Times, Philadelphia has scored a rare win over New York. The article offers no evidence that this is a rare win — it does not mention the United Nations loss or the 2009 World Series, which would have boosted its argument — but does say that “most of the rivalry stems from sports.”

That’s true. Had the Phillies won the 2009 World Series, I’d probably still be doing terrible cartwheels on Broad Street. I’m still angry at the Yankees! I’d be a happier man today had the Phillies managed to win consecutive World Series. But the Times is wrong about our supposed inferiority complex. As I’ve written before, it’s not that Philadelphia has an inferiority complex. New York has a superiority complex. As does Washington! And Boston! And, really, lots of other East Coast cities that I find inferior to Philadelphia.

This may sound silly to a lot of people, but Philadelphia is my favorite city on Earth. I’ve lived here my entire life. Let’s be clear, I’m biased. The only colleges outside of Philadelphia I applied to were in State College and Ewing, New Jersey. But why would I leave? I couldn’t imagine anywhere else. Philadelphia is an amazing city. It’s cheap, it’s fun, it has lots of awesome people. Why would I try anywhere else when Philly is so awesome? Even our suburbs are pretty cool.

Yesterday, the Times wrote not one but two stupid stories about Philadelphia. Both were bad by the Times‘ standards, or any standards. One was a listicle about Philly. It was fine, but it was paint by numbers. Allie Ilagan wrote a very popular tweet about the Times’ summary of Philly.

And this is what Philadelphians get angry about. We are always limited to cheesesteaks, Rocky and the Liberty Bell. Which is weird, since our most popular worldwide exports in the last 20 years have been Will Smith and Allen Iverson. People all over the planet still root for the Sixers thanks to AI! People all over the planet love Will Smith! It’s a shame people still bring up the time we threw snowballs at Santa. One, he was a shitty Santa, and deserved to be pelted. Two, that happened before man walked on the moon. New York isn’t constantly chided over things that happened almost 50 years ago. It’s not an inferiority complex — we just wish journalists were less lazy.

The other NYT story said that Philadelphians were still angry about the “next borough story. That article, written in 2005 by then-Philadelphia Weekly writer Jessica Pressler — so, then, not a New Yorker — who later worked here at Philadelphia magazine, has been occasionally derided for referring to Philadelphia as the “sixth borough.” When tweeting about the piece yesterday, the Times spelled Philadelphia incorrectly. It ruled.


But “sixth borough” was a self-deprecating joke — so many New Yorkers had moved here, for the first time anyone could remember! — at the time Pressler wrote the story. She didn’t invent it. Philadelphians have a long, storied history of making fun of their own city. Don’t confuse Philadelphians’ amazing penchant for self-criticism for a hatred of their own city. Philly does not have a superiority complex, so we’re OK with being critical.

The Times also quoted Hugh Douglas, a former Philadelphia Eagles player. “I hate New Yorkers,” the Times quoted “Mr. Douglas” as saying. “They’re smug. They think New York is the greatest city in the world. They talk about, ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.’ If that’s the case, then why do so many damn people live there?” Yo, I’m with Hugh. The long lineage of pro athletes who have come to Philadelphia and made a post-athletic career here is a sign: The Philadelphia area is great.

I wrote yesterday about the upside of the DNC coming to Philadelphia. Let’s talk about the stupid downside: Journalists from New York and Washington writing dumbshit pieces on our city. But I think we can roll with it. Journalists write dumbshit pieces on every city. Yes, Philadelphia is one of the major ones. Our cliches are hilarious. This is what we have to deal with:

  • Rocky: A stupid boxing film that no one really talks about much, and this is coming from a writer that chronicled Rocky’s journey in the second film.
  • Historical stuff: Yo, the Betsy Ross House and Independence Hall are cool, but whatever.
  • Cheesesteaks: The greatest god damn sandwich on the planet.

We’ll have to roll with this. I urge all Philadelphians to not be angry over the stupid national takes we’ll hear about Philly in the next year and a half. Hell, the Times’ isn’t even too bad in this respect: If the DNC were held in Fishtown, I’m sure they’d be all for it. But there will be dumber takes, and we have to deal with it. But that’s fine. More than enough people will come to Philly next year, and flip their shit when they learn how awesome it is. It’s going to be great.