I’ve always said that Philadelphia is the biggest city in America you wouldn’t notice disappearing. With six million people, it’s the sixth largest metro in America. And while, because of the vagaries of metro area definitions, I think that overstates its rank a bit, without a doubt, Philly is one of America’s largest metro areas. A 1.5 million people, Philadelphia is also America’s 5th largest municipality.
So why doesn’t Philly loom larger in the national consciousness? When we think of Philly, mostly we think of stuff that happened a long time ago – Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell and stuff like that. But what does Philadelphia do today? Most people might know the large pharma concentration in South Jersey, but beyond that, not even I knew much about the economy of Philadelphia.
Part of it could be a lack of a signature industry that resonates in the public consciousness. Or it could be, as some have said, Quaker modesty that precludes the city from tooting its own horn too much. Or perhaps the fact that the city has been in decline for an extended period of time. While places like New York, Boston, and DC recovered from their nadirs, Philadelphia seemed not to.
I spent the weekend in Philly a couple weeks ago. Believe it or not I’d never really been to the city, unless you count connecting in the airport or one brief suburban business trip. That by itself was telling. Nothing really draws you here.
But after spending some time touring around the area, I came away impressed. I avoided the center city mostly, just doing drive bys of City Hall and the like. Nor did I take in museums and such as I normally would. Instead, a friend of mine took me around, showing me not just downtown, but outer neighborhoods like Germantown, Chestnut Hill, and Manayunk, along with troubled places like Kensington. I also managed to do a little exploring of the Main Line suburbs.
Philadelphia has beautiful geography. There are gentle hills for the most part, with an extensive tree canopy. There are also two major rivers to provide an enjoyable waterfront experience.
The key to understanding Philadelphia, I’m told, is that unlike most places, it isn’t really a city at all. Rather, it’s a collection of towns (both in-city neighborhoods and suburbs) in which the various parts of the region really have little to do with each other. It’s like they live in different worlds. Unlike with say Chicago, where there is huge neighborhood consciousness but also a fierce attachment to Chicago the city, Philly is more fragmented. Or at least that’s what I was told. The City of Philadelphia was shaped the 1854 act of consolidation, which implemented a city-county merger with Philadelphia County, dissolving all existing municipalities there. Yet some of them seem to have independent lives yet today.
The city itself has very good bones. I was surprised to see it so intact. Philadelphia is known for its murals, which it uses to enliven areas where there have been demolitions. So I was expecting wholesale destruction on the lines of Detroit or some traditional Rust Belt burg. Make no mistake, Philadelphia has endless miles of slums. But the city seems to have mostly survived. Unfortunately, a lot of the buildings are in horrible shape, so whether they can be saved is another story, but at least they aren’t already gone.
Another surprise to me is that Philly is a two-story city. Most neighborhood buildings, including the ubiquitous row houses, are only two stories tall. I was expecting more verticality. Still, the dwelling unit density and lot area coverage are pretty high.
One exception to the positive is the Delaware River frontage. The city is cut off from the river by I-95. And on the river side of the freeway are huge numbers of strip malls, strip clubs, and assorted other depressing establishments. You’d never know you were in a city driving through them. There are a few nicer places along the waterfront itself, but there’s a long way to go to reclaim this area.
The transport network was of course of interest. Philadelphia seems vastly under-freewayed by big city standards. Other than I-95, the other main spoke route is the Schuylkill Expressway, which follows along the river of the same name. It rapidly drops to a mere two lanes each way, and congestion must be nothing short of awful.
Parts of the city still have streetcar tracks and overhead trolley wire, though only a few of these appear to have active streetcar service. There are streetcar tracks on Germantown Rd., for example, but sitting at an outdoor cafe for over an hour, I didn’t see one.
The most interesting part of the system to me is the suburban rail system. Philly has an extensive commuter rail system like New York, Chicago, and Boston. But it’s very unique. Philly has the only fully electrified commuter rail system in the country. It also built a tunnel many years ago linking the downtown terminal stations to enable through running of trains, something no other commuter system can do. (Penn Station in New York could through-route commuter trains, but I don’t believe that it does). Every line appeared to be fully grade separated. And Philadelphia’s system seems to largely rely on EMU type trains. All goodness.
My friend lives in suburban Paoli, and that line is fairly impressive. It has four mains with concrete ties, etc. This is the route used by Amtrak’s Keystone Service to Harrisburg. It’s already rated to 110MPH with, I believe, plans to further increase top speeds to 125MPH. With the SEPTA (Philly’s transit agency) Silverliner V EMU cars rated at 100MPH, it’s easy to see how you could create a premier commuter corridor here. I would say that there’s enormous potential in Philly’s commuter system to create a regional transit system on par with Europe, without ridiculous investments being required either. I may do a future post on this, but there may be more potential in Philadelphia’s commuter system than anywhere else in the United States.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to ride the SEPTA system itself, but did take the Keystone into NYC for a meeting. I was able to board in Paoli. I’d say the train was about 2/3-3/4 full on a Monday morning, with the bulk of the passengers exiting in Philadelphia. It seems to be mostly another set of passengers who board there for the trip into NYC.
The train boards in Paoli at 6:19am but isn’t scheduled to get to Penn Station until 8:38. This route might have reasonably frequent service, but the journey time is too long. With the Acela making the trip from NYC to PHL in only 1:05, there would seem to be plenty of room for improvements.
The availability of frequent Amtrak service to New York and Washington puts Philadelphia in an enviable position. As the south axis of the Northeast Corridor has taken on more importance, Philadelphia has started to rise along with it. The city gained population for the first time since 1950. You can see construction and investment in many places throughout the city, though clearly some transitioning neighborhoods got caught out by the housing collapse.
With the skyrocketing cost of real estate in New York, some folks are unsurprisingly looking south. Philadelphia Magazine just ran a story on the migration from New York and the sixth borough effect might finally be starting to happen for real. Though housing costs are high by the standard of the Midwest and South, they are dirt cheap by comparison to other East Coast big cities. With the impressive urbanism, extensive transit system, amenities, and good transport, it’s unsurprising people are looking to take advantage of what Philadelphia has to offer. If the catenary in New Jersey is finally upgraded, and modern rolling stock purchased to enable frequent, high speed trips to New York in times less than many outer borough commutes, Philadelphia might really end up taking off.
dan reed! says
Having lived in Philadelphia for the past two years before moving back to the DC area where I grew up, I was curious to hear your thoughts of the city. But I think you come to it with a Midwestern bias in saying that “nothing really draws you here.” I don’t know the Midwest well, and I might easily say the same about Indianapolis or Columbus.
That said, there’s a lot going for Philadelphia right now. It’s definitely having a renaissance, albeit at a slower pace than DC, Boston or New York. Walnut Street in Center City has emerged as a major high-end shopping destination (and just a great urban street), while Northern Liberties, Fishtown and Kensington (neighborhoods immediately northeast of Center City) have emerged as a center for art and music. The city’s home to several design firms that have gained notoriety far beyond Philly, like Onion Flats, Olin, and KieranTimberlake, while restauranteurs Jose Garces and Stephen Starr have put it on the national food scene.
And in West Philly, where I lived, Penn, Drexel and USP are working together to invest (or gentrify, depending on who you ask) in the surrounding neighborhood, aware that many of their faculty members commute from the suburbs (or New York) and that they have high living standards for them and their families. You can find a restored rowhouse in a safe neighborhood, a fixer-upper in an up-and-coming area, or a loft space or warehouse, for far less than you could in Brooklyn or Baltimore, let alone other East Coast cities. I moved back to DC to be closer to family and friends, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about returning to Philadelphia.
By the way, SEPTA runs eight trolley lines, six in the city (mostly in West Philadelphia) and two in Delaware County to the west. The 23, which ran along Germantown Avenue, was converted to a bus 20 years ago.
I hope you get a chance to return to Philadelphia to get the full story, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts then.
Greg Meckstroth says
Thanks for the thoughts on Philly. I moved here 15 months ago from the Midwest and have absolutely fallen in love with the City. Like you said, there seems to be a lot of development/redevelopment going on and the general public awareness is very high. My perception of Philly before moving here was that it was a tier 1 city. After having moved here, I would still say it is a tier 1, but at the lower end of tier 1 cities. Tier 1 in terms of urbanity, size, importance, etc. So what this has done is made Philadelphians constantly compare up to other Tier 1 cities, like DC, NYC, SF. This has definitely led to a complex, and people here tend to have an exceptionally cynical view of Philly. But from an outsiders perspective – I am blown away at Philly’s assets and urbanism. Center City has the 3rd highest downtown population of any city in the US, after Chicago and NYC. So in my opinion, even though it is the 5/6 (depending on the definition) biggest MSA in the country, it feels like the 3rd – that is, the urbanity can only be topped by NYC and Chi while places like LA, Houston, Dallas, SF never ‘feel’ as big or as urban as Philly.
You mentioned that the city is a 2-story city. Well, this isn’t true in the center, but perhaps so in the north and south reaches of the City. In the center, 4 story rows dominate the landscape, I’d say.
The city definitely has a lot of good bones to work with. And it has definitely reached a tipping point, and tipped over, towards the positive, in economic growth. I expect to see big things out of Philly in the years to come. It is a good place to be.
Aaron, I did some work on a corridor plan in Philadelphia about 12 years ago. I got to learn a good deal about the city at that time but I haven’t been back since, unfortunately.
I did too enjoy the city and came away impressed. And I’m sure it’s gotten better over the intervening 12 years. One point that was brought up when I was there, however, was that the Philly rowhouse landscape that contributes to the 2-story feel you refer to is both a blessing and a curse — a blessing because it gives the city a solid physical presence, and a curse because of its monotony and declining desirability. I’d be interested in more impressions on Philadelphia.
Rob Steuteville says
I detect a pro-freeway bias in some of your remarks. Rather than saying Philadelphia is “under-freewayed,” I’d say that other cities are “over-freewayed,” and Philadelphia is fortunate that more Interstates were not built. A freeway teardown of the section of I-95 around downtown would greatly improve the city.
People have always complained about congestion and the turns on the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), but I have driven it many times and never ran into the kind of congestion that you routinely find around DC, NYC, and Los Angeles. One reason is that you have the beautiful parallel alternative surface roads of the East and West River Drives, which are turned into one-way thoroughfares during rush hour, and also the good commuter rail alternatives.
In response to Pete, I’d say the two-story rowhouse form is a curse in some parts of the cities and not others. The older rowhouses near the river (west of 95) and in West Philadelphia, Center City, and many other neighborhoods have been fixed up because the urbanism is great and the close proximity to amenities and jobs. The walkable, valuable area near downtown has doubled in size in the last 20 years.
But there are square miles of two-story rowhouses built around mid-Century that are not so appealing elsewhere in the city. These neighborhoods have languished, even though the housing is pretty solid.
Civis Romanus Sum says
Greg: “people here tend to have an exceptionally cynical view of Philly. But from an outsiders perspective — I am blown away at Philly’s assets and urbanism”
I lived there briefly, in 2000-01, and was getting quite attached to the city when suddenly I had to leave. But one thing that did put me off was the cynical, negative attitude of too many locals toward their own city. If some cities like Chicago have too much boosterism and self-satisfaction, Philly has (had?) the opposite problem: too many people dumping on the city, despite its many great amenities. It’s like “negative boosterism.”
Just a personal impression, and maybe it has changed in recent years.
Steve W says
I’d like to add a couple more assets to your Philly scorecard, prompted by Dan’s comments.
1. UPenn has compiled a remarkable record of connecting its campus to West Philly and using its own growth to build a neighborhood that benefits residents and students alike. The school has led US universities in aligning its interests with those of the community around it. http://bit.ly/RGTESs In a similar vein, its neighbor, Drexel University, recently completed a 20-year plan in which it fully embraced its urban setting and responsibility for community-building after a long period of ambivalence about its location. Both schools deserve credit for work completed and a vision for the future. This whole area of the city feels very different than it did 20 years ago – in a good way. http://bit.ly/Uv6KlS
2. The Porch at 30th Street Station offers a terrific example of pop-up/temporary placemaking that has turned a dull stretch of concrete outside of the station (itself a remarkable block of Deco architecture) into a lively, inviting space. It has opened a lot of folks’ eyes to the possibilities of the station area, which is ripe for TOD redevelopment. http://universitycity.org/the-porch
3. Largely complete within the city limits, the popular multiuse Schuylkill River Trail takes full advantage of formerly industrial river frontage. It blends a strong transporation link, recreational opportunity, and appealing green space on the edge of Center City. http://bit.ly/Oqm3ZG
4. It seems that almost every US city has scrambled to find a place for a High Line knock-off within its aging infrastructure in what sometimes feels like the mall-building gold rush of the 1970s (although a dozen High Line knockoffs will trump a dozen King-of-Prussia’s any day). Philly actually may have the closest High Line equivalent in the gritty, industrial Reading Viaduct. The initiative hasn’t gone very far, but the promise of the vision seems pretty compelling. http://bit.ly/LhTc79
Sandy Smith says
Aaron: I’ve followed your blog off and on over the years and am as surprised that it’s taken you as long to actually visit Philly as you were at what a great city this is.
Like you, and like Greg, I’m a Midwesterner by birth and upbringing – and, I must confess, I probably wouldn’t have moved here 28 years ago had I not met someone who lived here. The place grew on me almost immediately, and I’ve been here ever since – longer than I lived in my native Kansas City, another city with a municipal inferiority complex.
I’ve been known to tell friends and visitors two things: “This is really a small town masquerading as a big city” and “This place is underrated, and nobody underrates it more than the locals.” I see you discovered the truth of both statements on your visit.
But I would encourage you to visit again – and to spend some time in the city center, walking around it, and to spend some time exploring its outer precincts using the mass transit systems that carry the bulk of SEPTA riders. This place is a study in contrasts and contradictions, and there is a Tale-of-Two-Cities quality to much of it that the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Center captured wonderfully in a report on the area that dubbed it “Bostroit.” “Boston” rides Regional Rail. I encounter “Detroit” most evenings on my Market-Frankford Line (“El”) ride home to one of those not-so-lovely – but incredibly diverse ethnically – neighborhoods of two-story rowhouses.
What to do to make those quasi-urban neighborhoods more urban(e) is a live issue now that the city has both a new zoning code and a new master plan largely in place. I think that revisiting would give you a rare chance to see an older city that time could have passed by march uncertainly into the future. And I’d be happy to show you around.
I am from the area and can attest to its great urbanity. The streets are narrow and numerous throughout the city, jaywalking anywhere is very safe. The city is gentrifying/redeveloping very quickly from the center out. neighborhoods like Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Fairmont, East Passyunk, Ceder Park, and New Bold were complete ghettos in the 90’s, now they are some of the best neighborhoods in the region and every year more and more people are moving in.
I think people in the area are negative about SEPTA because it has so much potential. 30 years ago there was suburban train service to places like West Chester, Newtown, Reading, Quakertown, Ivy Ridge and Parksburg. Trolley lines throughout the city have been discontinued as recently as 1992. Rail service is still not frequent enough. SEPTA has done no expansion in the last 25 years (except the reactivation of the 15 trolley line) and everything good about the rail system it inherited from the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads, with many of the station little better than bus shelters.
People are also negative about some basic city policies that keep the city down like the wage tax, tax deliquescent properties, and a city council that seems parochial.
I too feel that the city highway system is under built but that is a good thing. BTW the Schuylkill expressway is horrible and traffic can back up for 15 miles or more on most days (all the suburban freeways lead to this one route into the city)
I think it’s not so much a “Midwestern bias” as it is a “rest-of-the-country perspective.” When an average person not from the area thinks of big Northeast Corridor cities, I’d venture they think of NY-Boston-DC as the “first tier,” followed by Philly and Baltimore as the “second tier.”
I think it’s just different when you’re not from an area. I live in Chicago now, and know places like Milwaukee and Indianapolis much better now, but would totally have just said “what’s there?” before I moved here. Similarly, I grew up in southern California, and I’m sure that a place like San Diego occupies outsize importance because of that.
I think part of the issue is that Philly is just surrounded by pretty flashy metropolitan stars (the NY/Boston/DC trifecta mentioned above). If it were in another part of the country I bet it’d get a lot more love — it just gets kind of blended in with the other “East Coast” metropolises that just get more national talk.
the urban politician says
This post is written as if you are telling us about a place that only you and nobody else has seen.
Give me a break, Aaron, you’re talking about Philly. If you hadn’t been there by now, then shame on you.
If you haven’t heard much about it by now, then again, shame on you.
I have been there several times and lived there for a year back in 1998-99. I think you did this whole post and yourself an injustice by just driving around like you did. Philly, especially Center City, is a pedestrian’s city. You should have walked and experienced all that it has to offer before writing this post.
There is much to see and do in that city.
Chris Barnett says
I fully agree with you about suburban rail and Philly’s transit system in general. I lived in the city 4 years, carless, and loved it. Some of what used to be “suburban” we would call urban or “walkable new urban” today (Main Line towns from Merion out to Paoli).
I agree with the polycentric village conception of the city as well. When I lived there, Philly folks always seemed to self-identify as living in specific places (“the Northeast”, Germantown, Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill, Gray’s Ferry, Overbrook, Cobbs Creek, Kensington, Roxborough, Society Hill, Rittenhouse/Washington/Logan Squares, Fishtown, Manayunk, North Philly, South Philly, West Philly, Powelton, Mantua, Southwest Philly, etc.).
Something to keep in mind about the waterfront: Philadelphia is (still) a large and active port. That’s a workingman’s world and one might reasonably expect the market to preserve dive bars and strip clubs where the waterfront has not been gentrified.
Is it just me, or is the urbanophile really not?
I’m pro-mass transit because I believe that people should have options, especially if they don’t like driving, but the Schuylkill Expressway desperately needs to be upgraded to modern Interstate standards and have its capacity expanded. It’ll be a hell of an undertaking, but world-class cities need world class transportation infrastructure of all kinds — bike paths, subways, commuter rail and highways. It won’t take much reinvestment for Philadelphia to have a world-class commuter rail system since many of the pieces are already in place, but the Schuylkill Expressway alone makes Philadelphia’s highway system anything but world-class.
It’s worth noting that this would involve upgrading an existing highway through an area that’s already developed, as opposed to building a new one on the fringe of the metropolitan area, so the investment is much more justified. If Boston can bury the junction of two Interstates underground, then Philadelphia ought to be able to six-lane a highway and put lids on it in places in South Philadelphia, because such a project would cost a lot less.
It’s ironic that the two busiest segments of Interstate highway in Pennsylvania are also the two most obsolete segments. I guess it doesn’t pay to be a pioneer sometimes, because both segments predate the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. Instead of wasting money paving rural roads that handle fewer than 10,000 vehicles per day, PennDOT should resurface them with tar and chips in the short term, and invest their resources into upgrading the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76) in Philadelphia and the Penn-Lincoln Parkway (I-376) in Pittsburgh.
I have lived in Philadelphia all my life. I would say your representation of Philadelphia (and what you say you’ve “heard”) is not at all true. I could go through each point tell you why it’s not true, but that would take forever! Some points:
I live a little over two miles southwest of what one would call “Center City” or, to be more specific, Rittenhouse Square or City Hall. However, I can walk, ride, or take the bus into the city from my house and be there in less than 20 minutes (walking).The majority of the houses/buildings from my house to the center of the city are 3+ “floors,” including many, many beautiful brownstones. Yes, we have a more clearly defined area of the city where the tall buildings are, but homes/neighborhoods exist in pretty much every area of Philadelphia. And each neighborhood is INTEGRAL to its surrounding neighborhoods. Fishtown changes the way Northern Liberties, as a neighborhood, changes. Same with Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze or Grays Ferry. We are communities within those neighborhoods, yes, but that’s because, contrary to popular belief, we are friendly people. We are friends with our neighbors, the bartenders know our names, and we know the names of all the dogs in the neighborhood, too. And the sass about Philly highways? We’d prefer to keep our 10,000+ acres of park space (which you completely failed to mention). You can keep your extra highways. We’re getting around just fine.
Finally, about the “nothing really draws you here”? Are you completely failing to think about, oh, I don’t know, HISTORY? You call yourself an urbanophile but then you admit apathy about visiting one of America’s most important cities. Hm.
PS- SEPTA was named the best large transit system this year by the APTA. Link: http://articles.philly.com/2012-07-27/news/32870459_1_septa-transit-agencies-delaware-valley-association
Benjamin Hemric says
Interesting post as it’s always seemed to me that some cities (or parts of cities) loom bigger on the cultural radar, or even seem bigger in person, than they actually are, and other cities (or parts of cities) seem smaller than they really are. (For instance, I think most people think of San Francisco as having a larger population and a larger geographic size than it actually has.)
In New York City (where I’m from), Manhattan, of course, looms larger than it really is (in terms of population, geographic size) and Brooklyn and the Bronx both seem smaller than they really are.
I find Philadelphia to be especially interesting in this regard. I haven’t been to Philadelphia in a very long time, so obviously things have changed enormously. But I used to go there quite frequently at one time (walking around a lot pretty much from river to river, visiting Society Hill, South Philadelphia, taking the trolley to Chestnut Hill and the subway to West Philadelphia and also the airport, etc.). Being from New York, I assumed that Philadelphia would seem small to me, but I was surprised as to just how small it seemed to be. For some reason, it actually seemed smaller to me than Boston (when, in fact, it is much larger city in terms of population and geographic size). As mentioned by others, perhaps this is because Philadelphians have concentrated their energies in various areas outside of downtown and its various adjacent neighborhoods?
Along these lines, I think it would be interesting to have people (both people who’ve visited a city and people who haven’t visited) do cultural cognitive maps (a la Kevin Lynch’s “Image of the City”) of various American cities as a way of measuring a city’s size in terms of national consciousness (with regard to people who’ve never been there before) and the dynamism of a city’s “downtown” (with regard to people who’ve just visited for the first time).
Thurs., 09/06/12, 8:25 pm
I think your article is short-sighted, judgmental and ill-informed on many levels. I am a midwest transplant to Philly, moved here 2 months ago, by-way of Detroit-Richmond-Pittsburgh. I too love cities, which is why I love the Urbanphile updates.
There’s just too many “so I’m tolds” and suppositions in your rhetoric to allow this to be a post of significance on this site. Didn’t even go to the Museum? How about any one of the many museums the city offers? So what if you didn’t go to Center City — but no mention of South Street, Northern Liberties, Reading Terminal, or the incredible Fairmount Park system is obtuse.
Philly is also host to nearly a dozen urban University campuses — from Temple, to Drexel to University of Philadelphia to a thriving Community College as well. The relationship between cities and universities is always a unique push and pull, where issues of gentrification, education, culture and the urban landscape collide. No mention of this though, none whatsoever.
Next time, actually ride the SEPTA, research why the trolley doesn’t run on Germantown Ave to the urban-suburbs of Chestnut Hill anymore, do some real research. Share with ell your readers something, anything about Germantown that might be useful other than relating Philly’s “Quaker Modesty” to the reason the working folk here don’t boast.
But I’m a newbie here, what do I know?
DBR96A says: “Schuylkill Expressway desperately needs to be upgraded to modern Interstate standards and have its capacity expanded. It’ll be a hell of an undertaking, but world-class cities need world class transportation infrastructure of all kinds”
I do not believe this to be the case. First of all the highway can not be expanded. It is up against the river on one side and freight rails and cliffs on the other or jammed through Center City. Paris and London both have limited highway networks, are they not “world class”? It is stupid to think that a city needs lots of wide highways to be great. Second how many lanes would you theoretically make it. Would three lanes in each direction solve the problem? NO. The law of induced demand is a work here. no amount of lane widening would help.
Alon Levy says
So, my personal experience of Philly proper is limited – I only visited once, for just a few days, though my experience was pleasant, and Center City was walkable and had interesting places to visit, like the Liberty Bell. I know the Glenside area a little better, since I visited many times in 2006-2008, riding Amtrak to 30th Street and the Regional Rail back north; my main recollection of it is the long walking distances to anywhere interesting, and the lack of any pedestrians even on the Main Street-style commercial streets.
Maybe it’s just my observations of the Regional Rail, but I think the “great bones” comment is exactly correct. The entire system is electrified, because they cut service beyond electrification – but there’s been no attempt to electrify and restore service to major anchors like Allentown. There is a commuter rail tunnel with some through-running, but the through-services are inconsistent. The frequency on the lines is low, with most running hourly off-peak trains. The fares are not integrated with local transit (I don’t think, at least), and the inner-city stop spacing is too wide. Many platforms are low, requiring conductors to open the trains, even though management won the right to eliminate them in the strike.
Alon Levy says
Rob Steuteville says
Agree with Lou.
Induced demand would make a hugely costly expansion on the Schuylkill a huge mistake.
From most of the region, the Schuylkill Expressway is not the best way to get downtown. Only from the sprawl areas around King of Prussia is it the only route.
Keep the congestion on the Schuylkill. It’s the best incentive to use mass transit and/or move downtown.
Who cares about a world-class freeway system? Like Nashville? Like Atlanta? Like … Indianapolis? I’m sure that’s on the top of the list of why people are moving to those places. “I love the freeways.”
Philly should tear down a mile or two of I-95 near Center City and restore the urban waterfront. Let the through traffic bypass on the Jersey side. That would kick the city up a notch.
If PennDOT could find a way to widen the Lewistown Narrows (U.S. 22/U.S. 322) in the middle of the state, given the extreme topography it dealt with, then they can find a way to widen the Schuylkill Expressway in spite of its topographic constraints as well.
Furthermore, I explicitly stated to put lids on portions of the highway as it passes through South Philadelphia. It’s the highways above street level that create psychological barriers; the highways below street level can have lids put over them in places, which dramatically reduces the discontinuity. Lastly, I’m not looking for Philadelphia to emulate Nashville or Indianapolis. I’m talking about rebuilding an existing highway, in other words, one that already exists.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with upgrading existing infrastructure. It’s what SEPTA can do to give Philadelphia a world-class commuter rail system, and it’s what PennDOT can do to ensure that both of the major Interstates that serve Philadelphia are modern, not just one.
By the way, the highways in metropolitan Paris are built to a higher standard than the Schuylkill Expressway.
If you are an “urbanophile” and you are just now getting to Philadelphia, one of America’s top 5 walkable and densest cities (along with NY, Chicago, Boston, and SF), then frankly, you are not an “urbanophile”. And your explanation for why Philadelphia does not loom larger on the national conscientiousness is well, largely hearsay and based on exactly one person’s opinion.
Quite frankly, the reason why Philadelphia does not loom larger than it does in the national conversation is because we don’t give a *uck about what you all think of us. It is a uniquely Philadelphian attitude…some call it “Negadelphian”, but in all honesty, even the people who love Philadelphia could care less what you think of us.
That being said, there are so many mis-statements and oversights in your post that I can’t help but address a few:
1. The major industries in Philadelphia are undoubtedly “Eds & Meds”. The University of Pennsylvania alone employs 38,000 people, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (the number one Children’s Hospital in the WORLD) is in the midst of a $1 BILLION dollar expansion. Outside of that, the Pharmaceutical Industry looms very large (and it’s not based in South Jersey, which has zero industry), but rather the western suburbs, downtown, Northern Delaware, and in Mercer County, New Jersey. Companies including MERCK, GlaxoSmithKline, Astra Zeneca, Centocor, Cephalon, and Shire all have MAJOR facilities in the region. Outside of that, financial services, chemicals, energy, and defense (Boeing, Lockheed, etc) employ 10s of thousands of people. There is also a burgeoning tech scene, but I won’t elaborate.
2. Philly’s metropolitan area is 6 million people. And you know what? It’s not “overstated”, it’s understated. There are ring counties outside of Philadelphia which culturally, historically, and physically, have a relationship with Philadelphia but are counties in New York’s MSA. The folks who live in Mercer County NJ (25 minutes from Philadelphia) are Phillies fans, watch our local TV, and read our papers, but are counted in NY’s MSA. Much of the Lehigh Valley (Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton, and points further north like Pike and Monroe Counties “The Poconos” are culturally Philadelphians). Again, they watch our TV, use our airport, follow our sports, yet they too are now counted in New York’s MSA. We’re undercounted, not overcounted.
3. We have the most underrated food scene in the country, if not the world, and the BEST museums in the country. You obviously experienced none of that. The lack of praise given to our food scene is a typical example of the Philadelphian “who cares what you think” disposition. We know it. We don’t have to have attention heaped on us by the national rags to feel better about ourselves. And the thing that’s so great about Philadelphia’s food scene is that even the pedestrian/blue collar/street food is excellent, if not the best in the world, I’d argue. NY and LA’s food truck cultures don’t even come close.
4. We have the best markets in the country, lead by Reading Terminal Market (better than Pike Place, and pulease don’t even try to call Chelsea Market an actual Market), but followed up by a bevy of neighborhood farmers markets, most of which blow away the competition in other cities. Especially good is the market at HeadHouse Square, 10-2 on Sundays in Society Hill.
5. That farm-to-table stuff people croon about in other cities? It’s real here, and we don’t need fancy labels to talk about it. Philly is probably the biggest city in the country where farms are so easily accessible. You can be on pastoral farmland in every direction within 20 minutes of leaving Center City. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a farm within and hour and a half of Chicago. “Local” produce in NY is from farms 5 hours away (interestingly, restaurants in NYC are more likely to identify beers from Ithaca as being local, which is again, 5 hours from NYC, than they are beers from Philadelphia and its environs, which are only 1.5 hours away).
6. We have the best beer scene and culture in the country. As a recent transplant to NYC, as a comparison, the beer scene is laughable. The artisan selection in the best restaurants in NY is usually limited to 5 beers, all of them light/blonde, and the “locals” love their Bud and Miller Lite. Which are not beer. In Philadelphia, even the dive/neighborhood bars serve local/small batch brews, often times exclusively.
And you caught us on an off day. The Schuykill (76) is typically grid-locked day and night, including Sundays. And we don’t need to expand it. The regional rail network serves the towns along the Schuykill well and shame on those people for not using it.
You did get one thing right. Philadelphia is a metro of small towns and villages. It is both fragmented in that regard and harmonious, as it creates a lot of local attachment and identification, which in some places might be considered parochial. That being said, many of these places are quite affluent (Media, Jenkintown, Glenside, Ardmore, Haddonfield, Moorestown, Wayne, West Chester, etc) and would serve as national examples of new urbanism were they not so old, small, and already established. The other thing Philadelphia distinctly lacks are any large mega-burbs which are so frequent in almost any other city, and growth engines of their own. I’m thinking of places like Naperville and Aurora outside of Chicago, Arlington, Alexandria, and Columbia outside of DC, Irvine near LA, etc. The largest suburb outside of Philadelphia is Upper Darby, which has no commercial base and is essentially an extension of West Philadelphia, separated from the city’s grid only by one of the city’s major parks (Cobbs Creek). Upper Darby has about 85,000 diverse denizens. After that, the city might have 2-4 burbs with 50-60,000 citizens, but then it rapidly drops to a typical 10-15,000, if not smaller. In fact, Philadelphia is surrounded by 100s of small towns, many of which have only thousands if not hundreds of residents. That increases both the charm and cements the lack of cohesion you recognized.
By the way, considering I-95 is below street level as it passes by Old City and Penn’s Landing, there’s no need to tear it down to regain access to the Delaware River. All they need to do is put lids over the entire kilometer-long segment of the highway between Market Street and South Street. Maybe in the future they can rebuild I-95 below street level between Tasker Street and Oregon Street and put some lids over it to reconnect that part of South Philadelphia to the new developments along Christopher Columbus Boulevard. There’s no need to tear down I-95.
An interesting read.
One thing that confused me is the size of the metro thing. If anything the census under estimates the population not over estimates it as it relates to the metro.
Chris Barnett says
Marc, as a former resident I agree with most of your points.
But I do think you reached too far with “countryside” (farmland) 20 minutes in all directions. There’s none due west until you get past Newtown Square (and hasn’t been for 30 years); 69th Street terminal in Upper Darby is 20 minutes west of Broad & Walnut. Northwest (out Lancaster Ave./Lancaster Pike) it’s probably an hour’s drive to a little still-rural area around Valley Forge (Yellow Springs Rd., Audubon, etc.). Similar drives are required north and northeast. Big greespaces, such as Fairmount Park, Cobbs Creek Park, and the golf courses and estates of Overbrook and Fox Chase…yes, they’re close. But not farms.
For farms 20 minutes out of downtown, you need to come to Indianapolis or Columbus. With regard to Chicago, one of the most productive fresh-fruit zones in Michigan (Berrien County) is about an hour from The Loop via I-94.
Philadelphia’s “local” food-shed benefits tremendously from South Jersey and Chester/Lancaster/Montgomery Counties and their very long growing seasons. The many wealthy suburbs with consistent demand for high-quality produce also help.
I am sorry as a resident of Brooklyn born and raised your interpretation of NY Beer-Food scene is dare I say a bit underestimated.
Brooklyn Breweries: Brooklyn Brewery, Kelso, Sixpoint served at any local bar in Brooklyn. Union Hall.
Manhattan: historic wonderful McSorely’s Astor Place served even at Yankee games.
Beer establishments in Brooklyn: Radegast Bier Hall, Der Scwartzen Kolner, Scpitzenhaus, Bierkraft,Draft Haus. In Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn local bodega you can find a variety of beers Warka, Baltika, Franciskaner, Efes etc. My local Russian Super market a variety of Ukranian, Bosnian Beers. Street Food in NY try Flushing, Red Hook Taco Carts, Brooklyn China town, Brighton Beach Avenue Russian Pastries and Sausages, Astoria Greek Gyro carts frequented by Greeks. Papusas in Queens. Bake in Little Guyana Queens. All delicious.
I love Philadelphia great city but don’t make broad generalizations of a city like NY which is not just Times Square Midtown.
“An interesting read.”
Marc, I like Philly, but come on….
1. Your observation about Philly’s economy is mostly true, but it is sort of in this weird zone where it’s not quite as healthy as NYC/Boston/DC, but healthier than most rust belt cities. I certainly would not characterize Philadelphia as economically depressed or meaningless, but it’s a little short of where it should be, given its size.
2. Allentown/Bethlehem is not included in the NY MSA. It’s it’s own MSA, as it should be. I’m not too familiar with Mercer County, but I’ll grant you that I think of it as being more Philly than NY. As for Pike, it gets a lot of transplants from both NY and Philly, and when I vacationed there as a kid, local stations from both cities are broadcast there. Once again, I don’t think you’re wrong, but the NY and Philly metro (and cultural) areas sort of bleed into each other and do not have a clear-cut border.
3. There is absolutely no way that Philly has the best museums in the country. I agree that the food scene is underrated, but I personally have not heard much about food trucks in Philly.
4. I’ll grant you the point about the markets.
5. I don’t even know what this means. The farm-to-table thing is growing in cities all over the country, including Philadelphia but by no means limited to it. Also, it is totally untrue that NYC’s local produce is all from farms five hours away. Much (if not most) of it is from the Hudson Valley, which is about the same distance from NYC as Lancaster County is from Philly.
6. Philly does have an excellent beer scene, but best in the country? It might be in the conversation, but the winner is not clear-cut. Also, I don’t know what restaurants you are going, but it is quite easy to find artisinal beer in NY that is not light or blonde. You can certainly argue that Philly has a better beer scene than NYC, but saying in NY’s is as good or better is not “laughable” at all..
(Native NYer, by the way. I’ve been to Philly many times. I like it.)
Scott and Vin,
First of all, I apologize for the tone of my post. Didn’t mean for it to come off as mean spirited. Second of all, you both make my point about beer for me. In Philadelphia, you don’t go to a “beer bar” for good beer. You go to ANY bar. You go to ANY decent restaurant. And yes, even the dive bars in edgy neighborhoods serve the good stuff.
You rarely see a person in said establishments drinking any of the national beers.
The point I make about beer is one that you simply don’t understand until you live here and experience it on a day in and day out basis. (I’m still saying here even though I’m in Manhattan, now, LOL).
And I stand by my assertion that the beer selection in New York, especially compared to the caliber of everything else here, is laughable.
As for the farms, I’ll ceed the middle ground. Certainly north and east of Philadelphia farms are close. In the case of South Jersey, very close (definitely within the 20 minute mark). But Chester County, particularly Southern and far Northwestern Chester County still have amazing productive, agricultural assets. And those farms beyond Valley Forge are most certainly within a 30 minute drive of the city without traffic.
I guess I was just put off by the entire tone of this post as dismissive. Like, oh hey, I never think about Philly, and I just went to it. It’s cute.
That’s the gist. Then he goes on to prove how little he knows about the city and it just proves to us that know and love the place that if he actually visited with somebody who knew what the heck he was talking about, he’d be even more impressed.
I agree on the density/vertical comment. I was very surprised based on what I always understood to be the size of Philly how little of it was dense. It’s closer to Pittsburgh although Pittsburgh’s overall size and population is significantly smaller.
Even thirty years ago when I first visited as a kid, it always felt like the city itself had a small footprint and that those collections of neighborhoods felt very disconnected from the core of Philly.
I haven’t been there long enough (or recently enough) during a visit to speak to much else about it, and the Pittsburghers I grew up around always had knee-jerk negative reactions, but I do think that it has a very unique downtown core. I’d bracket it with Baltimore, DC and Annapolis – historical but not completely a museum to the past, with a nice balance between history and modern day.
The chattering classes chatter about what they know:
themselves. Boston, NY,and DC have larger roles in the culture because they have larger roles in the culture industry.
Chris Barnett says
Marc, seriously? I get using some hyperbole to testify to the compactness and density of the Philadelphia metro. I’m probably overstating, but Philly’s developed area feels about the same physical size as Cincinnati’s or Indy’s developed area, with almost 3 times the population.
Developed metro Philly’s only parts of five fairly big PA counties: Philadelphia, Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, Bucks (of which only Philadelphia and Delaware are fully urban/suburban), plus parts of three huge and lightly-urbanized NJ counties (which take in most of the Pine Barrens wilderness).
All that said, it just isn’t a 30-minute drive from the edge of Center City (Rittenhouse, Logan or Franklin Squares) to the really rural edge of the metro in Chester, Montgomery, or Bucks county. That would require a 3am Cannonball run in perfect weather with green lights, crazy speed and no cops. I’m pretty sure I never got it done in my young-and-stupid days.
As for the ADI edge, I think the old 1700’s East/West Jersey colonial line pretty well demarcates the NY/Philadelphia influence zone borders…Flemington, Princeton, Barnegat Light.
Matthew Hall says
I’m pleasantly surprised to see that people care about Philly. I always got the impression that it was ignored and unloved when I’ve visited.
Alon Levy says
Pike, Monroe, and Merced Counties all have much stronger commute ties to New York than to Philly. Even Trenton does, let alone Princeton, which is a New York suburb and not a Philly one. In Monroe and Pike Counties you have thousands of people who work in New York and hundreds who work in Philly, if that.
I don’t understand the angry tone of some of the posters in this comments section. The Urbanophile blog is not the single source on record for all things Philadelphia. It’s merely one man who carried with him certain perceptions about a place, tested them by visiting it, and posted his observations online.
That he did not experience all of a Philadelphia’s essence during what sounds like a brief visit is not a reason for scorn. It sounds like he did exactly what I would do when visiting a place for the first time. See as much as you can by however means you can, and try to scratch the surface of what makes a place unique.
Though some of his observations may have been erroneous or ill informed that should be forgivable; especially for people who spend their whole lives, decades or years living in Philadelphia. One thing the comments section has confirmed though is something that sports fans have known for years: people from Philly can be jerks.
Mercer County is NY Metro, by far. It isn’t really debatable. Something like six times as many Mercer County residents work in NY MSA counties compared to Philly MSA counties.
Yes, parts of Mercer are closer to Philly than to NYC, but that’s not how we do Census-derived metropolitan areas. I mean, parts of Metro Philly are closer to Reading and Lancaster than to Philly, but are counted in the Philly Metro area. That’s because (among other reasons) Philly is a much stronger employment draw. You don’t just draw a line in the halfway point between two metros and say everything on one side goes to the appropriate metro.
I would say that Philly’s MSA is about right considering it’s relative “feel”. It certainly isn’t undercounted because of Mercer or the NE PA counties that are now more tied to NYC (Allentown-Bethlehem area, and the Poconos area west to Scranton-Wilkes Barre).
American Dirt says
Interesting to hear so many remonstrations against Urbanophile’s suggestion that Philly might be underserved in terms of limited access highway mileage for a city of its size. I can’t help but think that some of it recalls Edmund Bacon’s chequered history as the Executive Director, who took a cue from his colleague Robert Moses in New York and proposed the widespread demolition of centuries-old housing for a depressed grade-separated highway at I-676 (Vine Street). If it weren’t for widespread opposition, Bacon would have obliterated the housing on South Street for a Crosstown Expressway as well, thereby almost perfectly framing Center City with limited access roads. Those who argue that Philly is underserved must remember that Moses got his way in NYC most of the time, and, even in proportion to its much larger population, New York metro has more expressway miles per capita than Philadelphia does, particularly when considering Moses’ work on Long Island.
One instructor of mine branded the shortcomings of the Schuylkill Expressway as suffering from the “accordion effect”. Since the road threads along the lower Schuylkill Valley and is at the mercy of the hilly topography around Manayunk and Montgomery County, it routinely alternates from 4 lanes to 8 or from 4 to 6 (and then back to 4) resulting in extreme congestion, sometimes even at 3 in the morning.
Sandy Smith says
I should note that not all of SEPTA’s Regional Rail routes are grade-separated; the R2 Warminster, R3 Media/Elwyn and R5 Lansdale/Doylestown lines all have significant stretches with grade crossings. And while urban station density is light on Regional Rail, the result of the closing of dozens of stations within the city limits since the late 1980s, suburban station density is higher than the norm on US commuter/metropolitan rail systems. Yes, it would be great if electrification were extended to Allentown and Reading – and the Newtown Branch brought back from the dead! – but as it is, Aaron is right, there’s tremendous untapped potential in Regional Rail. However, the Railroad Division folks at SEPTA bristle at anything that suggests that the railroad might be run more like rapid transit – including the half-cabs on the newest Regional Rail cars.
As for the objection to his characterization of Philly as a “two-story city,” I think his observation is accurate once outside the confines of Center City, South Philly above Snyder Avenue, North Central Philly, University City and lower Kensington/Fishtown. Just about all of the residential districts in this city built after 1900 or so consist of block after block of two-story rowhouses, and these areas account for the majority of the city’s land area.
Chris Barnett says
There is a lot of residential density possible (by North American standards) in two-story rowhouses with high lot coverage. Even a suburban neighborhood full of freestanding homes on 50×120 (6000sf) lots can achieve densities of 6,000 people per square mile. Cut that lot size by half (40×75) and density rises to nearly 12,000. Even with a 1000 sf footprint, there is still room for a garden and garage out back.
Sandy Smith says
Thank you, Chris, for pretty much accurately describing the neighborhood I live in. Oxford Circle in the Lower (or Near) Northeast is dominated by blocks of two-story rowhouses with modest front yards and wide alleys that provide access to the garages in the rear. Some homeowners have erected rear decks over the portions of those alleys that are their own lots; others have turned their front yards into patios or terraces for outdoor living and entertainment.
Other parts of the Lower Northeast are developed with smaller rowhouses on even smaller lots; these are the historically working-class precincts closer to the Delaware River, where former major employers such as the Frankford Arsenal and the Globe Dye Works sit.
Still others are – or were – developed for more affluent residents, with “twins” (as Philadelphians call semi-detached homes) and the occasional freestanding house on slightly larger lots.
All of these are in close proximity to one another; within three blocks of me is a block-long street developed in four-unit apartment rowhouses and a stretch of Roosevelt Boulevard built out with twins.
I don’t know what the total land area of the City Planning Commission-defined Lower Northeast district is, but it is now home to about 100,600 residents, up 11% from a decade ago due largely to increased family size. That’s about 1/15th of Philadelphia’s total population, by the way, and the area is among the fastest-growing in the city. (There are 18 planning districts in the city’s new comprehensive plan, “Philadelphia 2035.”)
While I’m at it, let me weigh in with one observation about beer and why many Philadelphians argue that this is the country’s best beer drinking town: As was noted above, when you go to a local bar, you see fewer people drinking the big national brews than you would in most other cities. What takes the place of Bud/Miller/Miller Lite/Coors Light/etc. in most of these places is Yuengling Lager, brewed in nearby Pottsville by the oldest brewery in America. It’s priced the same as the national majors but has more of a craft-beer character and flavor – it’s an amber beer with a very malty flavor. When the *cheap* beer everyone drinks tastes like beer, that’s saying something.
I lived on the Main Line for three years in high school and my parents moved into the city from there a few years ago. The primary thing about Philadelphia to me is the speed and scale of its urban revival. Even in the mid 1990s, long after other tier 1 cities had burgeoning revivals, large swaths of Philly were depressed, many dangerous, and hadn’t seen new investment in decades. Only 15 years later, I would rate it one of the most livable cities in the US. My retired parents cannot stop talking about whatever new place they biked to for brunch this week – and the neighborhood they moved into would have been an inconceivable destination for them only a few years before. They looked for a townhouse for a few years before they bought, and the areas they would consider seemed to grow monthly. I definitely consider Philadelphia underrated now.
How is Metro Philly’s rank overstated? If anything… it’s understated because of the proximity of so many other metros large and small… eating away at territory that would probably otherwise be inside Metro Philly.
I do agree, however, that despite its great size… Philly seems to lead an anonymous existence to many. It does not have many signature attributes that are well known compared to peer cities… and many smaller cities. Some of this is probably do to being overshadowed by nearby “Capital of the US” and “Capital of the Universe”. If Philly was located anywhere else… it would be a powerful regional capital as opposed to a “second-tier” city.
Sandy Smith says
Indeed, were Philadelphia situated where Chicago or Kansas City are, we’d probably talk about it as a top-tier US city, which it is in every respect save attitude and respect – though there’s plenty of evidence now that outsiders are giving the place more respect than the natives give it. (See above.)
An aside on Mercer County, N.J., since it touches on Anonymous’ comment: While the commuter traffic may have tipped in New York’s favor, the county still has ties that are as strong to the Philadelphia region. Princeton University is where it is because in the mid-1740s, the Presbyteries of New York and Philadelphia each wanted to establish a college; the two met together and picked a site for a single college halfway between the two cities. And the county remains firmly in the Philadelphia media market: Philadelphia’s leading local TV station maintains a Trenton bureau while none of the New York stations do, and Philly media still cover the county more intensely than New York media do.
I could really care less how a county is defined according to MSA standards. Those standards speak nothing of how a county identifies culturally or geographically. Trenton is 25 minutes from Philadelphia. It is over an hour from New York City. That being said, Central New Jersey is an employment center in an of itself, and a very strong one at that. A very large number of Bucks County residents commute there (to Central NJ) for work. Does that mean Bucks County should be counted in NY’s MSA?
The irony here is that the reason why the growth in Bucks County and the Lehigh Valley is so explosive, is because the quality of life is so much higher than it is in New Jersey in particular. Bucolic Countryside, good schools, (much) lower taxes. You can move across the border from Mercer County (as tens of thousands of people have done) to Bucks County and get a nicer house in a pretty town in a good school district and decrease your cost of living by a significant degree. Car insurance is lower, state income taxes are half of NJ’s, and property taxes are roughly half. So those “NYers” come across the border and bring their MSA with them, because they keep their jobs back in Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset Counties but move the location where they rest their heads at night.
And Sandy is only partially right on the beer. While Yeungling is the default and considered a national beer at this point, at least within Philadelphia, I’d argue the new default is Kenzinger, which is decidedly local, and available basically everywhere.
And Philadelphia is only a second-tier city only in terms of cultural conscience, not in terms of GDP. In the US, it ranks behind only NYC, Chicago, and Los Angeles, at least from the sources I can find. So it is still a powerful center of wealth creation and innovation.
I wouldn’t get too worked up over an “urbanophile” who has visited Philadelphia for the first time.
Aaron M. Renn says
Here’s why I say Philadelphia’s size rank is over-stated. One smaller urban area, the San Francisco Bay Area, was split into two MSAs by the feds. By clearly San Francisco and San Jose are not two separate cities. The Bay Area is bigger than San Francisco. There’s a similar situation in LA, but that city is already seen to be far larger than Philly.
Other large metros have a nearby satellite that is clearly in their orbit but has not yet been full absorbed. For example, Providence at 1.6 million is only 50 miles from Boston and is even on Boston’s commuter system. It’s culturally and economically integrated with Boston in many ways. Boston is the capital of all of New England as well, with outsize connections and influence. (You can argue it’s the same thing with Baltimore and Washington).
I think in terms of effective size (and certainly influence), the Bay Area, Boston, and DC are all bigger than Philadelphia.
Alon Levy says
Anon, I think your GDP sources use MSA (or closely related census urban areas) definitions, so of course Philadelphia would rank fourth – until a few years ago its MSA population ranked fourth, and even now that Dallas has overtaken it, its per capita income is higher than Dallas’s.
Bucks County has 21,000 Mercer County-bound commuters, vs. 32,000 bound for Philadelphia and 48,000 bound for Montgomery County. So it’s more in the orbit of Philadelphia than in that of anything in Jersey. But hop the river and you get a very different situation.
You don’t even need to trust census definitions. The data is freely available – from Pennsylvania north, you can get data for how many commuters there were from each township/city to each township/city in 2000. Nationwide you can only get the same on the county level. I plugged the data into the Japanese definition of metro area, which just looks at commuters into a central city but has a very lax standard (1.5% of 15-and-up population), and for the most part you recover the CSAs. Boston is the exception – its New Hampshire suburbs for the most part don’t have many Boston- or Cambridge-bound commuters, but instead form a string of central towns in which each town has many commuters working in the next town over toward Boston.
Sandy Smith says
Of course, Providence-Boston and Baltimore-Washington illustrate the complexities of metropolitan density, meaning here metropolitan centers close to one another.
Providence and Baltimore are both satellites and metropolitan centers in their own right: each has a major daily newspaper (the _Providence Journal_, _The Baltimore Sun_) and a full complement of network-affiliate TV stations. Baltimore also has major-league sports franchises to boot. Yet they are also undeniably intertwined economically with their larger (comparably sized, in Baltimore’s case) neighbors about 35 miles away.
I’d say, however, that these two cities are the exception rather than the rule for satellite cities in that most of the others lack all three of these key components of a metropolitan center (in the case of media, a daily newspaper is not enough – the TV stations must also be present).
San Jose probably got split off from San Francisco/Oakland because of the rise of Silicon Valley as an employment center that created a new, separate commutershed in its own right. Otherwise, I’d class it with places like Newark, N.J., or Gary, Ind., as a satellite city.
Alon: What’s the commuter breakdown for Mercer County residents, since that stat was put in play? I had understood that one reason for shifting that county from the Philadelphia CSA to the New York CSA was that it was an easy way to give Federal Government employees in the county a pay raise, as New York’s cost-of-living adjustment figure is higher than Philadelphia’s. As others have noted, Mercer County is clearly in the Philadelphia media market, not the New York one.
Sandy Smith says
Alon: Regarding Regional Rail, I was a rather vocal opponent of SEPTA’s move to drop the numeric designations for the paired Regional Rail branches, a system developed by Prof. Vukan Vuchic of the University of Pennsylvania, following common European practice. The idea was to take advantage of the opportunities presented by through-routing of trains from the former Reading system to the former Pennsylvania system; each pair of branches would form a “line”.
As reference terms, the R-numbers were a hit from the start: Philadelphians, who tend to react negatively when familiar terms are replaced with new ones (I’ll bet there are still people out there today who call them “East River Drive” and “West River Drive”), adopted the R-numbers with amazing speed. But they indeed did not reflect the way SEPTA actually ran the trains: the R2 Wilmington train I might have taken from my Center City residence to my job in Chester might return to town as an R6 Norristown or an R7 Chestnut Hill East train. Still, as the trains were clearly marked with color-coded signs, this was – or IMO should have been – a fairly trivial problem.
(I was also for a while one of the very few people who actually took advantage of the through-routing. For a while, I was employed in Yardley, which is on the West Trenton branch of the former R3. I have an account at a credit union all of whose branches are in Delaware County, and I would occasionally board the train in Yardley and ride it all the way to Media, at the opposite end of the line.)
But railroad people seem to be even more resistant to change than ordinary folk. The Railroad Division rank-and-file, from what I can tell, bristle at anything that smacks of running Regional Rail like rapid transit, advantageous though that might be. The R-numbers – and worse still, the color coding – were dropped by SEPTA two years ago, partly for that reason, I suspect, though agency PR spun it as “reducing rider confusion.” (It didn’t.)
That probably explains the fare separation too – though come to think of it, I can’t think of any metropolitan transit system that has full fare integration between commuter/regional rail and local transit; although passes (as they do here) and stored-value fare media may work on both, the fare structures usually remain separate and distinct, with higher prices and different zones for distances traveled on mainline rail services compared with parallel or nearby local transit. In addition, just about everywhere but Boston and Philadelphia, the commuter/regional rail services are run by a separate transit operating entity, even if the entity falls under the umbrella of a larger regional authority as in Chicago and New York.
Fascinating observations that I think reveal your Midwestern bias and attitude. Having grown up in NYC, Philly was always on my radar. I can’t say that I ever knew what drove its economy but, in my microcosm, it was always considered a cool day or weekend trip. Cool because it was/is scrappy, rough around the edges, smaller than NYC, with seemingly lots of independent cultural offerings. Maybe the early American history is what’s known about Philly nationally, but I think the city has had a presence in the minds of Northeasterners, at the very least.
Chris Barnett says
Sandy…you mean they AREN’T “East River Drive” and “West River Drive”? 🙂
Clearly, the full set of “attachment” factors aren’t considered in Census Bureau lines around MSAs and CSAs. Mass media is one factor. Aaron has previously linked to studies of phone-call clusters, and those of us who are sports-oriented would look for the rough boundary in Jersey between NY and Philly loyalties. As a former resident, I think of the line at the Shore between where NYC folks go and where Philly folks go, probably somewhere around Barnegat.
With the comments on Providence etc. Rememeber Trenton (Mercer) is like 15 miles from Philadelphi and Allentown is 40 (Another MSA of about 800-900K and Atlantic City (The South Jersey Shore is definately Philly influenced in a significant way) has another 400K in a different MSA. When places expand like Boston that similar footprint would actually contain about 8.5 million people for Philly.
On the Bay the inner core Bay (SJ to SF to Oakland) is about 5.5-6 million (the size of the Philly MSA) and then the CSA includes places over a stratch of more than 100 miles North to South.
Where the truth is who know but the Philly DMA (Media market) is the 4th largest in the country with about 8 million people (Chicago is at 9.5 million) the Bay is about 6 million for perspective.