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.â€ â€œOur window looked out onto a concrete courtyard of trash cans and roaches, and a rat came out of our toilet.â€ â€œWe could only afford to live in Queensâ€”why the hell would we move to Queens? For Indian food?â€ â€œWho cares about the Met, off-Broadway and the new â€˜Itâ€™ restaurant if you canâ€™t afford it, especially with young kids?â€
Now, the responses to moving to Philadelphia: â€œWe got a five-bedroom house with a yard and a pool for less than our cruddy apartment!â€ â€œBrooklyn says itâ€™s diverse, but neighborhood by neighborhood, itâ€™s not. In our neighborhood in Mount Airy, there are black kids, white kids, mixed kids, lesbian couples, mixed couplesâ€”itâ€™s nirvana!â€ â€œWe can do our work anywhere, so long as weâ€™re within spitting distance of New York and D.C.â€”why the hell didnâ€™t we come here earlier?â€
Itâ€™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, horseâ€”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.
Youâ€™ve seen us on playgrounds in Chestnut Hill and West Mount Airy, all in black, clutching espressos, waxing ecstatically about how â€œcheap!â€ and â€œpretty!â€ everything is here, while our Ramones-clad little ones run around giddily. We may look and sound insufferable, but the truth is, weâ€™re stunned. Everything is so much nicerâ€”the houses, the people, the landscapeâ€”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.