View Full Version : Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Midnight Star
04-02-2010, 07:27 PM
My story is set in Philly and I've never been there before (I know--taking a risk here), so I need to know as much as possible. I'd really appreciate some input from current residents of Philadelphia.

1. What is the cultural environment like? Like, what kind of people live there, how do they dress and act?

2. What is the housing like? Are there more Skyscrapers and businesses than houses or vice versa?

3. Is West Philadelphia really as treacherous as described in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?

4. Last question: Do you/did you like living in/visiting Philadelphia? Why or why not?

Thank you for all your help.

04-02-2010, 08:52 PM
Let's see...

Well, I went to grad school in West Philly. It was pretty rough, but University City which is imbedded within West Philly is an oasis of collegiate buildings and security. But still, you can get mugged there and you need to use your city smarts at all times.

I like visiting the museums of Philly, and South Street. But there are some parts of that city that I wouldn't be comfortable walking around in.

There are a lot of skyscrapers in the city, some funky ones at that. Its skyline is accentuated by the two (or three?) pyramid topped scrapers. So the downtown is offices and businesses, but there are also swanky living areas like Rittenhouse Square.

Culturally it is a city trying to reclaim itself. Mayor Nutter is very involved with the arts and endorsing and accentuating them in the city. There are gorgeous murals all over the city as part of a revitalization program. Blacks, whites, and every other color in between call Philly home. Clothing isn't as snazzy and hip as NYC, imo, but it's still a cosmopolitan city.

04-03-2010, 07:25 AM
I grew up in Philadelphia, and lived there until I was seventeen.

In Roxborough, where I lived, there were suburban areas where houses had large lots and the main roads had strip malls with large parking lots. In "downtown" Roxborough there was about a mile of retail in small two-and-three story buildings.

There's a little bit of everything; I don't know that there's a true "Philadelphia Culture." I went to the same private high school as Grace Kelly's brother; I remember when we read "A Separate Peace" we joked that it was our school pictured on the front cover.

Rittenhouse Square is the area that's most New York-like. The park, larger than a city block, is surrounded by highrise apartments with doormen. East of Broad Street (which would be 14th in the numbering system) there are a few highrises but lots and lots of 18th-century style townhouses.

I enjoyed living in Philadelphia. Many times one thinks about moving someplace new and exciting because a visit there was so nice, but as soon as you have to pay the electric bill and buy toilet paper the magic wears off. You find yourself walking by famous museums and restaurants and becoming so used to them that you never bother to go in.

I was fortunate that I didn't live that close to downtown; I would go with my grandfather on Saturdays and we'd tour historic sites or museums, and we'd have lunch either at the Crystal Room at John Wanamaker or the Corinthian Room at Strawbridge & Clothier. (Department store restaurants were intended to provide a safe place for a female shopper to have lunch; it also was the best place to take a kid.)

As you get into the story more, if there are any questions, feel free to PM.

04-03-2010, 07:29 AM
I've lived in the suburbs since I was a kid, and I went to school at UPenn, which is hanging out between center city and w. Philly. I lived for two years at 39th and Pine, just off campus.

I didn't really go deep into west Philly, though I made it as far as 50th a few times, mostly to meet up with friends who were braver than me. But for the most part...I don't think it was that bad. I'm sure there are areas where it's awful, but I never went to any of them. (Again, I'm a small white girl; I don't tend to wander places where things could get ugly).

I loved living there. It feels so much more alive than the 'burbs.

(my only complaint - my apartment could only get comcast and so I paid out the ass for cable/internet)

04-03-2010, 08:28 AM
I don't live there, never have, but I do know that there exists in Philadelphia a serious undercurrent of resentment of New York. Much of this is generated by pro sports competitions, where the Yankees and Mets historically have dominated the baseball scene, and the Philadelphia Eagles have never been able to win the SuperBowl in football. There's been a bit of payback the last few years, as the Phillies baseball team has become very good and has been to the last two World Series, winning one, but last year losing to (gasp) the Yankees. A little flavor of that attitude might be of use to you in your writing.


04-03-2010, 04:32 PM
MS, All three of my novels are set in Philadelphia. I live a 40 minute ride from the city and I visit often. In fact the last time I was in Philly was for cancer treatment at the UP Medical Center.
Much like any big city it has its ethnic neighborhoods, fashion center, commercial center ( complete with skyscrapers, ) and one of the largest inner city college campuses in the world. It has a city side deep water harbor.
It's loaded with churches, museums, ethnic bars and restaurants.

It has a large gay section that covers many blocks.

Philly has a China town section that draws in people year round. The "Old Town" is quaint.
Philly boasts the smallest of our National Park's. It's a townhouse that was the home of Revolutionary hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko--very charming with a video presentation. I could go on and on. The neighborhood where my MC comes from is Kensington--very rough!

We should PM rather eat up forum space.

Midnight Star
04-03-2010, 06:55 PM
Thanks to everyone for your help. :)

Chris P
04-03-2010, 07:21 PM
I love Philly. Only been there twice, but enjoyed it both times.

Although it's no substitute for being there, tripadvisor.com and travelblog.org are great resources for learning about a place. These and tourist videos on YouTube give a perspective not filtered by the city's tourism folks. The street views, photos and video on Google Earth are wonderful for gathering background info.

04-05-2010, 06:25 AM
I don't live there, never have, but I do know that there exists in Philadelphia a serious undercurrent of resentment of New York.

I think it's more a resentment of anywhere that's not Philadelphia.

One of the phrases that the tourism people like to use is that Philadelphia is a "city of neighborhoods." Which means to a tourist that one can go to Manayunk, or South Philadelphia, or Society Hill, and see something completely different and interesting.

If you actually live in one of these neighborhoods, you have your dry cleaner, your dentist, your movie theater, your grocery store, and going to another neighborhood means seeing someone else's dry cleaner, dentist, movie theater, and grocery store. What's the point?

I lived there seventeen years and didn't know where Cheltenham was.

The other thing coloring a native Philadelphian's view is that in their earliest history they were the biggest, wealthiest, most culturally important English-speaking city outside of London. They didn't feel a need to look up to anyone. They're resentful of an implication that they should, not that they care all that much about what the other cities are doing.

As for sports - Philadelphia has a contingent of nasty, malicious, angry sports fans. They throw things at team busses when they come into town for a game. It's not New York, or Atlanta, or LA, it's just the other guys.

Midnight Star
04-05-2010, 06:38 AM
Oh I definitely know about the vicious sports fans. Phillies fans are some of the worst. I remember going to a Braves-Phillies game in Atlanta last year and they were just so mean. Plus, the two behind us never stopped talking...

I know, I know, I'm rambling again. ;)