U-Hauls filled with futons from Downtown Furniture will soon be rolling through Center City streets, if you can believe the Sunday New York Times piece that pronounces Philadelphia to be the Big Apple's next unofficial borough.
But tell those carpetbaggers we're going to cost them a little more than advertised.
The SundayStyles centerpiece paints a portrait of our city as scenester's paradise, with its quaint BYOBs, edgy galleries, cool clubs and cheap housing.
Unbelievably cheap housing.
The piece, a freelance article by Philadelphia Weekly columnist Jessica Pressler, starts off with recent transplant Laris Kreslins leading a tour of what's described as the city's priciest neighborhood. He parks his car in front of "a handsome brownstone on Rittenhouse Square" and enthuses, "We're going to show you what a real Philly apartment looks like." Unlocking the door to a one-bedroom flat with hardwood floors, ample light and tall ceilings, he pauses before getting to the beauty part:
"Rent is $800 a month. Heat and electricity included."
What's not to like?
For starters, there are no brownstones on Rittenhouse Square, handsome or not.
I walked around the square yesterday, looking at high-rise after high-rise after high-rise. Closest thing to a brownstone is The Ethical Society, which is not letting any rooms. Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors stands at the square's southeast corner.
"There is no question they didn't get an $800 apartment on the square," said John Featherman, who specializes in neighborhood rentals. "For about $1,100 or $1,200 I could show you a junior one-bedroom in the Dorchester or the Savoy." A few blocks away, he said, a one-bedroom could be found starting around $900 - but "if I told you how deplorable the condition is, the holes in the wall, the filth..."
So what's up with that apartment Laris was showing off.
Well, it wasn't exactly on the square, says his girlfriend, Kendra Gaeta by phone. It was at least four blocks away at 22nd and Spruce. She has moved down from New York recently - they've bought a place in the Art Museum area - and is so jazzed about her new city that she and Laris have created a movetophilly.com Web site. Their business: offering funky tours.
In the first 24 hours after the article went online, Laris and Kendra's site had nearly 3000 visits. Customers can pick from four types of tours: a neighborhoods/real estate tour, a history tour, a "sense of adventure" tour and an oddities tour. For $60 two people at a time can join Gaeta and Laris in his yellow Mazda Protege hatchback for a three-hour jaunt.
"The sense of adventure tour is where we take you to some place where we have never been," she says. "We make no guarantees about that one." The oddities tour takes in such attractions as the Insectarium and the Mutter Museum, where all sorts of curious anatomical objects are displayed.
Pressler, by the way, acknowledges that the brownstone wasn't on the square, although she remembers it as being closer, about 21st and Walnut. She went as far as asking a Prudential realtor whether it was proper to describe that neighborhood as Rittenhouse Square. And it is.
But on the square itself? Not actually.
It certainly is closer to the square than the one place that turns up when you search for "Rittenhouse Square," "$800" and "one-bedroom-apartment" on Craigslist, Philadelphia. That gets you one on Grays Ferry Avenue, more than a mile away. On the plus side, the landlord seems cool with dogs and cats, though.
Chris Thompson of Northern Liberties was steamed enough at the Times piece to write a book of a letter to the editors, which we reprint in its entirety because Chris copied us on the email and because it is good:
To the Editors:
Look, the New York Times is writing about Philadelphia again. I bet we
can guess how this is going to go:
First, the story will be imbued with an air of exoticism, curiously
introducing New Yorkers to this strange place called "Philadelphia."
It's only 90 miles south, but when you're in the Center of the Universe,
it might as well be Brigadoon.
Next, look for the same tired citations standardized by Jere Longman:
booing; MOVE bombing; cheesesteaks, Rocky. That's all the effort the
Times cares to make anymore when it deigns to report on Philadelphia.
But this piece of...really goes the ultimate distance in its zeal to
sneer: "Philadelphians occasionally refer to their city - somewhat
deprecatingly - as the `sixth borough' of New York..."
This -- the entire premise of the story, the thesis statement -- could
conceivably be the ultimate insult to Philadelphians. But in a clever
turn, the story puts this unsubstantiated, unattributed insult *in our
own mouths.* In so doing, the Times and reporter Jessica Pressler
surrender any credibility with Philadelphians because we know the
underlying thesis is wrong.
Born and bred in Philadelphia, where my family has lived for a few
hundred years, and a lifelong resident except for four years in your
fair city, I have occupied every corner of Philadelphia, both literally
and figuratively: from the paneled rooms of the Union League to
beer-soaked union halls, from private school to working in construction,
tending bar, playing in bands, producing theater, and far more. I know
every seam of this city and every type of person in it, and I know this:
Never once has any Philadelphian uttered such a piece of b.s., nor would
As a journalist now for almost two decades, I would remind the Times --
which has had some problems with this -- that transparency in the source
of information is the foundation of credibility. Yet, there is not one
shred of attribution for the thesis statement in this story. No one is
quoted. That's because, in all probability, it was made up. Was this
reporting started when Jayson Blair was still on staff?
There's more: Inserted into that fabricated assertion was one last
little dig: When we refer to our city as the sixth borough of New York
-- which we don't, ever -- we do it deprecatingly.
Because at the New York Times, Philadelphians are incapable of speaking
about themselves or their city without self-deprecation. We're the
Rodney Dangerfield of U.S. cities, right?
Without wasting another 500 words, I'll say it's pretty well established
that New York, in this nation's infancy and beyond, couldn't find its
elbow without Philadelphia's help -- in finance, in commerce, in
industry, in the arts. Yeah, times change, and New York became the
bigger target. I mean city. Sorry. City.
But in the intervening 200 years, while New York has been masturbating
furiously at the sight of itself, Philadelphia has continued to be
Philadelphia. Until now, that is.
No, now we can probably look forward to underproductive, overgrown
children driving up real estate values and clogging restaurants, museums
and streets while contributing little.
"Look how cheap everything is. We can totally get over on this town."
The city's prospects for working its way out of its hole and undoing the
wage tax (Oh, yeah: Hey, newcomers -- have we got a paycheck surprise
for you...) won't get any better if our new population all wants be in a
No, those New Yorkers who come to live in Philadelphia should bring
industry with them or get a job. Here in Philadelphia, we work for a
living. Transplants also should leave behind all assumptions about how
life should be here because of how it was there.
Once again, the New York Times has willingly assigned and published a
long, insult to Philadelphia. Though the story appears, on its surface,
to celebrate the city, it's really another imperious smirk.
Philadelphia needs Brooklynization about as much as a frog needs a
bicycle. To those intrigued at the idea, come down if you want to learn
some manners. Otherwise, stay where you are. We're doing just fine
without your seal of approval.
Those from any other city are most welcome.