2.20.2010

Why Philly


Oops on my part. Some readers read my recent post about San Jose being unaffordable as a lament. Understandable; but no buyer's remorse on my part. Rather, being the cheap bastard that I am, I was reveling in the bargain that is Philadelphia, especially compared to where I came from.

But it begs the question (OK, maybe it doesn't beg the question, but humor me): is Philadelphia the best choice for me? Or, phrased another way: if I had to advise someone like me who was thinking about where in the world to live, would I suggest Philly? Here's my take on what would matter (I'm purposely taking out of the equation "where do my family and friends live," because although I accept that that is a primary consideration in most cases, I'm trying to present a more generic evaluation of different cities):

* Jobs and other professional opportunities. This is where most people start, is with the question, "Can I get a job there?" Contrary to popular opinion, I think Philly is defensible on this front. We're a big city and a diverse region, in terms of industries, so you'll find lots of opportunities in lots of different fields, which is good from a diversification strategy. Speaking of which, where we are slightly heavy - eds and meds - tends to be relatively recession-proof.

* Location, location, location. The good news about Honolulu is that it's gorgeous. The bad news is that it's literally an island. As for me, give me the ability to do easy day trips to New York and DC. In other words, Philly being near lots of other cities is a pretty nice perk.

* Getting around. Here's where I diverge from most (but not all) people. Highways that are always jammed? Downtown streets so narrow I haven't dared drive there for several years? A transit system whose stations and vehicles smell faintly of urine? Sign me up! Yes, my hatred of driving has made me slightly demented. What can I say: I like being able to get around on my own two and by bus or train.

* Family friendliness. Good cities are attractive to young'uns, and then retain that attractiveness once those young'uns start pairing off and having younger'uns. And on that front, Philly's a mixed bag. You have world-class institutions and amenities to keep the kids entertained, but you also have a public school system that is failing too many of them. A deal-killer for most in my socio-economic class, but I lucked out in that we ended up in a good neighborhood school catchment zone.

* High and low culture. Speaking of those institutions, you have all you could ask for in a big city: an orchestra, museums, performing arts centers. You also have the Phillies, the Mummers, and Penn's Landing. Something for everyone; even better, some things are for everyone, which makes for some nice mixing that you just don't see in too many other cities.

* Diversity. On that note, Philly is not without its racial and ethnic tensions, but by and large, it's a place in which you have enough common ground that you and your kids can rub elbows with people who are wildly different from you in religion, salary, and skin color. And I think that's important.

* Night life. This category means nothing to me, since I don't really have a night life. (Most would argue I don't really have a life, but I digress.) But I hear Philly's better than you'd think re: clubbing, bars, and live music. And the restaurant scene is pretty top-shelf.

* Weather. I remember first coming to the East Coast and thinking it dumb for people to say they like having four seasons; hey, if you like 70 and sunny, why not have it all the time? But I have come to drink the Kool-Aid: 70 and sunny all the time is b-o-r-i-n-g, and four seasons gives a nice rhythm to the year.

* Will I get killed (or at least roughed up). The answer to this question in Philly is the same as it is in any other place: as long as you don't deal or do drugs, or go to places where that's happening, chances are slim.

* Value package. Hey, don't forget about the price tag for all of these things above that you're getting or not getting. And here's where I think Philly runs circles around any other place I might consider. For example, did you know I pay less than one G a month total for mortgage, property tax, and homeowner's insurance? I have friends in high-priced places like Silicon Valley or Manhattan who, unless they are wealthier than I thought and put something like 50 percent down on their houses, are probably paying that amount twice a week. Hey, I accept that there's a lot to like about Silicon Valley and Manhattan that I don't get in Philly; but is it five to ten times more?

Here's another fun thought puzzle: if tomorrow I was evicted from Philadelphia, where would I choose to go? Off the top of my head, candidates would have to be poorer and transit-served parts of DC, Chicago, or New York. As for the Sunbelt, Phoenix/Texas/Atlanta/Florida are intriguing but ultimately too spread out for me. I can't afford the West Coast and wouldn't tolerate having to drive everywhere. Smaller East Coast cities I'd get bored of too soon. And, call me bigoted, but I can't stand the Red Sox.

So there you have it: Philly in a landslide. Although, my household is a little OD'ed on all the snow, and there's been a lot of chatter lately about St. Thomas . . .

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