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January 13, 2015

Aubrey Nagle: Why University City is Philly's best neighborhood

Neighborhoods University City
View from Drexel Park Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Center City is experiencing a tech boom.

All right, I’m just going to say it: If you’re not living in University City, you’re probably

a) A suburbanite
b) Out of touch with technology and/or pop culture
c) Older than 35/dirt
d) All of the above

You know how I know? Because University City is cool. Not in Fishtown’s trying-to-be-cool way or your mom saying “surfbort” kind-of-weird-but-cool way. Like, actually cool.

That’s because it’s full of (dun, dun, dun) millennials, simultaneously the driving force of the nation’s culture and economy and the bane of all preceding generations’ existences. We’re taking over Philadelphia – Philly’s seen the largest millennial boom of any major city – and University City is our headquarters. Basically, we’re totally killing it right now.

According to Pew, millennials are the key to Philly’s future. That same Pew poll says UC has one of Philly’s biggest chunks of millennials, and that’s not even counting the under-20 set, which you know we have plenty of thanks to the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and the University of the Sciences. Since UC has ‘em all packed into one neighborhood, you could say we’re kind of a big deal.

We also have that whole “eds and meds” thing on lock. With two nationally ranked, top 100 colleges right next door to each other and 54 percent of our residents holding bachelor's degrees or higher (compared to Philly’s overall 23 percent), we’ve got some serious brainpower over here. And if you ever need a trip to the emergency room, UC’s Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania are ranked in 13 specialties, and CHOP is ranked in 10, just FYI. Education and medicine are two huge drivers of our local economy, providing jobs and public services that help the whole city grow. Youse guys are welcome.


Locust Walk on the Campus of the University of Pennsylvania. / Thom Carroll, PhillyVoice Staff Photographer

All that "eds and meds" growth leads to growth in other areas, too. The UC job market has been on the up-and-up for years, and pedestrian counts are growing. Sure, growth rates and statistics are a total snoozefest, but they mean the UC nerds are putting people to work and getting them out on the town. Who doesn’t like a little extra cash and a place to spend it? No one? That’s what we thought.

Frankly, UC can barely contain all the awesome coming its way. Business is booming, baby. Skyscrapers are sprouting, campuses are expanding, retail space is developing – people are coming to us, and we are welcoming them with wide-open arms. In just the past few years, Shake Shack, Federal Donuts, Jake’s Sandwich Board, Zavino, Bobby’s Burger Palace, Joe Coffee, Hai Street Kitchen and HipCityVeg have all put down roots here. And that’s just the food.

As far as nightlife goes, we’ve got nice bars like City Tap House, we’ve got divey bars like Blarney Stone, and we’ve got sports bars like Cavanaugh’s. If you’re a walker, you’re within reach of Local 44 for vegetarian and meat-eater food with an awesome bottle shop and Dock Street Brewing Co.’s craft brews. Honest Tom’s Taco Shop and Lil’ Pop Shop’s gourmet popsicles are close by, too.

Need to go shopping? There are sporting-goods stores like Philadelphia Runner, preppy joints like Gap and The Loft, millennial favorites like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel and a few up-and-coming boutiques. Plus, you know we university types have a few top-shelf bookstores and, like, a dozen Starbucks.

We’ve also got a not-scary movie theater (we’re shading you, Riverview), a ginormous grocery store, cultural institutions like the Annenberg Center and the Institute of Contemporary Art and TWO Wawas. Basically, if you want to experience the best things that Philly has to offer, you don’t even have to cross the Schuylkill.

If you do want to take a look around, though, we’re within walking distance of Boathouse Row, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Schuylkill River Trail and parks for exercise and sightseeing. We’re a hop, skip and a jump from Center City nightlife, restaurants and shopping. Plus, if you’re not a fan of the complicated SEPTA bus routes, there’s no need to take them. UC has easy access to all the trolley, subway and regional rail lines you could ever need.

And then there’s that view! Every day at sunset, the fading sun lights up the Philly skyline. (Sure, you could get the same effect at sunrise from Old City, but ew, that’s so early.) Just like the view, the people are also gorgeous. Millennials, welcome to your biggest dating scene. Non-millennials, sit back and allow the vestiges of youth to re-energize you with their beauty and vigor. 

The Drexel Dragon on Drexel University's campus in Philadelphia.
The Drexel Dragon on Drexel University's campus in Philadelphia. / Thom Carroll, PhillyVoice Staff Photographer

Despite all the college students, it’s not like UC is one giant frat party. The campuses that dominate the area live in harmony with the surrounding communities. With their civic engagement programs and volunteer opportunities, USP, Drexel and UPenn work tirelessly to create one big West Philly love fest. Not to mention, the crime rates in UC have been trending down in recent years, and rent is cheap. Unlike some Philly campuses (you know who you are), UC plays nice with its neighbors.

Every type of person can find a home in University City. If you’re a quiet homebody, no one will bother you and you can order in food from delicious restaurants for the rest of your life. If you’re a party animal, there is no shortage of places to see and be seen. If intellectual pursuits are your thing, you can throw a stick in any direction and hit a dozen major cultural institutions.

Maybe Old City has great nightlife, but the rent is too high, and those cobblestones are a nightmare. Sure, Center City has theaters and restaurants, but it’s basically a giant tourist trap. Manayunk is hip and chill, but it’s so far away. Suburbia has quiet neighborhoods and safety but too many minivans. University City has it all and it wants even more, so why not join us on the other (better) side of the river?