10 Sep 2012

New Yorkers Renovating Philly

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W.C. Fields (1880-1946) desired his tombstone epitaph to read: “On the whole, I would rather be in Philadelphia.”

Susan Gregory Thomas describes the latest neighborhood experiencing gentrification at the hands of desperate New York urbanistas seeking affordable living space: Philadeliphia.

We had a one-bedroom apartment, and our son lived in the dining room.” “Our window looked out onto a concrete courtyard of trash cans and roaches, and a rat came out of our toilet.” “We could only afford to live in Queens—why the hell would we move to Queens? For Indian food?” “Who cares about the Met, off-Broadway and the new ‘It’ restaurant if you can’t afford it, especially with young kids?”

Now, the responses to moving to Philadelphia: “We got a five-bedroom house with a yard and a pool for less than our cruddy apartment!” “Brooklyn says it’s diverse, but neighborhood by neighborhood, it’s not. In our neighborhood in Mount Airy, there are black kids, white kids, mixed kids, lesbian couples, mixed couples—it’s nirvana!” “We can do our work anywhere, so long as we’re within spitting distance of New York and D.C.—why the hell didn’t we come here earlier?”

It’s a haunting question. I, for one, felt that New York had become the protagonist in my life, entering as Holly Golightly-meets-Horatio Alger and, by the third act, morphing into Richard III. My kingdom, horse—all sacked by the Big Apple. This might explain why so many of us have the dazed look of returning veterans, though our battle was of the bourg-y socioeconomic variety. We lost it in New York, but we see hope in Philly.

You’ve seen us on playgrounds in Chestnut Hill and West Mount Airy, all in black, clutching espressos, waxing ecstatically about how “cheap!” and “pretty!” everything is here, while our Ramones-clad little ones run around giddily. We may look and sound insufferable, but the truth is, we’re stunned. Everything is so much nicer—the houses, the people, the landscape—that it can take months for post-traumatic effects to wane. To wit, on the first night in my new house, I stayed up all night unpacking kitchen boxes. At around 4 a.m., I heard a rattling sound. Oh, God, I thought. Rats. It was the automatic ice-cube-maker. I burst into tears.

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