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Center City Philadelphia notsunami/iStock.com

The Center City Philadelphia skyline is seen here from the Schuylkill River.

March 03, 2016

Toronto Star writer says Philly might be 'cooler' than New York City

Does City of Brotherly Love's rising star change the debate about how we stack up against the Big Apple?

The age-old sports and food rivalries between Philadelphia and New York City are merely the most prominent examples of how the two powerhouse East Coast cities jockey for supremacy. Most of us in Philadelphia would rapidly defend our appeal against the Big Apple's high cost of living, throngs of noisy people and overbearing – even if somewhat deserved – sense of self-importance. We'd also probably acknowledge that, critically speaking, it's a battle we tend to lose most of the time and it doesn't really change how we feel about Philadelphia's worth. 

It's possible that the only way to resolve this issue is to accept the opinion of a neutral source: a Canadian.

Writing for the Toronto Star, Emma Yardley presents a case that Philadelphia "might just turn out to be cooler than New York City," based on its civic commitment to the arts, its diverse youth culture and its rapidly evolving restaurant scene.

My impression [of Philadelphia] used to be a mishmash of gooey meat-and-cheese sandwiches, Rocky Balboa running up some stone steps, a cracked bronze bell, and the intro song to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But then I went to Philly for a few days, and that all changed.

What I discovered is an understated, historically rich city quietly going through a youth-driven cultural revolution that could propel it to the top of hip, urban U.S.-destination lists.

During a recent stay at the Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel in Rittenhouse Square, Yardley was impressed by the scope of Philadelphia's Mural Arts program, including our public-art bylaw that requires developers to commit one percent of construction costs to making the city beautiful if they purchased land from Philadelphia.

Yardley also wrote that it's no mistake Forbes has been hosting its Under 30 Summit at the Convention Center. The magazine picked Philly because of its fasting-growing millennial population in the United States, supported by 92 area colleges and universities that graduate students into a more favorable job market than would be found in New York City or Washington, D.C.

Of course, this debate isn't going anywhere and Yardley's article is just the latest in the battle, a rare (but increasingly less so) victory for Philadelphia. Several years ago, Curbed Philly spoke with Gabe Feldman, co-author of "If You Can't Make it Here, Get Out: The Tough Love Guide to New York City Living." Feldman visited a few compelling points, like the difference between what he terms "regular" and "irregular" people. Those who lead less conventional lifestyles, the irregulars, he suggested, would be better served in Philadelphia as a first destination.

Feldman went on to make the point that New York City more or less doesn't even want to be seen in competition with Philadelphia.

"Philadelphia feels like the weak sister sometimes," Feldman said. "New York feels like there can't be a rivalry with a city like that. New York [wants to] compete with Boston, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and London."

Yet New Yorkers have increasingly been moving to Philadelphia, as PhillyMag reported in depth in 2012. We were condescendingly called the Sixth Borough after thousands of transplants streamed down the I-95 corridor every year to settle into Philly's young, comparatively cheap, but eventful neighborhoods like Fishtown and Northern Liberties. Multimedia journalist Na'eem Douglass recently launched a blog and podcast, Brookladelphia, that exemplifies the best of this exchange.

As Yardley suggests, maybe Philly's strength in the fight is that we're a "cool" city because of our commitment to beauty and character as values in their own right, rather than as the status symbols New York City sometimes appears to valorize in a perfunctory way – out of a habit for greatness and class. The truth is there's plenty for both cities to admire and emulate about one another, and New York City looks best when it acknowledges this fact. If anything, Philadelphia's advances – and the attention we've lately received on superlative lists – are a testament to focusing on our own city's track record among residents as a benchmark for improvement.