6.12.2013

Shift in the City

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/SEPTA56ndStreetStationExterior2007.jpg/400px-SEPTA56ndStreetStationExterior2007.jpgI first arrived in West Philadelphia almost 22 years ago as a fresh-faced teenager from suburban San Jose, and the experience was bewildering.  My neighborhood, of course, has always had an influx of young educated folks from all over the globe, since we boast world-class universities, hospitals, and research facilities; but, not many of us stuck around 22 years ago. 

That's changed a lot, and of course it seems obvious that a big part of that is that West Philadelphia has improved dramatically in the last 22 years.  And while that is true, the neighborhood improving is only one half of the story. 

The other half is related to the young'uns themselves.  This generation doesn't necessarily think cities are just where you study and then you boogie out to the burbs when you're ready to really grow up.  Ever since "Friends" and "Sex and the City" made it trendy to be young and urban, cities have become a preferred destination for an increasing number of young folks. 

Philly has particularly seen an arrival of these young folks.  Again, Philly has changed a lot, mostly for the better.  But, on the other hand, Philly hasn't changed a lot, at least many of the places that didn't use to attract young educated folks but now do.  What's changed?  An increasing comfort level with things that young'uns in the previous generation didn't tend to gravitate to as easily: ethnically mixed residential enclaves, more physically rugged settings, and a transit and pedestrian oriented existence.

That last piece is a big one, at least around here.  One colleague of mine, in his sixties, put it to me this way.  After interviewing a young woman in his West Philadelphia office, he offered to call a cab for her return to her Center City apartment.  She replied that she had taken the subway and "why wouldn't I just hop back on at 56th Street Station a couple of blocks away?" 

Suffice to say that the young women and men he was interviewing 20 years ago weren't so at ease walking to 56th and Market and riding the Market Frankford Line back into downtown.  And while some of that is because neighborhoods like the one near my colleague's office are doing better, some of that is because young'uns are much more positive about using mass transit. 

This is a much more complex subject than how I'm describing it.  But I have to think that this shift is a positive for cities and for young'uns. 
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