West Philadelphia

I’ve been living in Philadelphia for almost three years now, and it’s the first place I’ve lived, post-college, that really feels like home. That’s due, in large part, to the fact that I live in West Philadelphia, in the neighborhood between Penn and the predominantly African-American neighborhoods between 52nd and the city line. I live in walking distance of several of my dearest comrades and dozens of other friends, both new and old. From the front porch of my town house apartment, I can see my credit union, a well-stocked food co-op, a liquor store, a coffeehouse, a soul bar, a dry cleaner, a bike shop, and a cheap diner. The comforting hum of one of America’s last trolley lines can be heard from my bedroom window. My rent is cheap, largely due to the city’s dismal public education system and stubbornly high crime rates (neither of which could possibly be related to the fact that Philly has a higher poverty rate than Baltimore).

But Philadelphia also feels like home because my family has roots here. My great-grandmother grew up at 4117 Pine Street, ten blocks to the east of where I currently live.
Back then the demographics of the neighborhood, both racial and economic, were profoundly different. But she used to go to the same park, ride the same trolley line, and stroll the same side streets. My mom grew up in Media and, later, lived near (and attended) Penn in the 4100 block of Locust Street.

I can envision staying in this neighborhood, and in this city, for a long time. I want good things for Philadelphia and I often feel defensive of it when hanging out with folks from D.C., Boston, and NYC. The city’s renaissance is more robust than that of, say, Baltimore, but it is predicated on the eds and meds model, which probably can’t last. I’m working on a big piece for Next American City which, partially, is concerned with this issue. How long can we rebound economically if so much of our growth is based on hospitals that have to be filled to capacity, all the time? A lot of unnecessary and expensive procedures are performed to ensure that this is so. This kind of uncoordinated care is grotesquely inefficient, expensive, and unsustainable. But eds and meds are what we have to replace the vanished manufacturing base. If the hospitals have to be dramatically pared back (as I think they inevitably will), what will Philly rely on?

Consider this a Friday note of love and worry. Happy weekend.

p.s.- Photo courtesy of Mike Lyons, West Philly Local.

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