Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Sixth Borough

As more and more transplants make Philadelphia their home, more and more transplants are altering the Philadelphia that once was. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Philadelphia isn't a boutique city, it's a force, quickly becoming an international one. But it is a city that clings to tradition - for better or worse. 

Now it's true, I am a transplant myself. I moved here for the same reason many have relocated to Philadelphia. Priced out of Washington, D.C. by rising rent and the bust, Philadelphia was a nearby and affordable slice of urbanity. But I had always had a fascination with Philadelphia. I didn't just move here because it was convenient, I moved here because it was time to live in the city I had always loved. 

In 2004, before Comcast was both synonymous with cable and our skyline, there was little national interest in Philadelphia. It was both wonderful and frustrating. Getting friends to visit was like pulling teeth. "If I'm going to go to Philadelphia, why not just go to New York?" Oh, the hell of living in the shadow of Manhattan. It's interesting to wonder, were Philadelphia isolated in the midwest, would be we on par with Chicago, or Indianapolis? 

The burden of coolness-proof lies on us, and that sucks. But in a way we do profit from our proximity to New York City and D.C., as much as any other city in America's Megalopolis feeds off one another, including New York and D.C. themselves. After all, the National Aquarium is not in D.C., it's in Baltimore. The Redskins play in Maryland, and the Giants in New Jersey. 

The Northeast Corridor isn't two cities surrounded by Dredd-style suburban and urban sprawl, it's a hive of cities, a collection of residents, unlike anywhere else in the world. And Philadelphia, as much as it benefits from New York and D.C., has a reciprocal relationship with both of those cities and others. 

So why then, won't "The Sixth Borough" die? Perhaps because the moniker is much older than most think. Philadelphia Speaks' user, OffenseTaken, posted a clip from an 1882 article that referred to Philadelphia as a "Suburb of New York." While the 19th Century article continues with the same sense of New York's ballyhooed self-worth that carries on today, it also recognizes that, over a century ago, Philadelphians were equally frustrated by the sentiment. "The above statement should not be a pleasant one for a Philadelphian to contemplate," said The Record of Growth.

At least for now, Philadelphia is not included within the New York Statistical Metropolitan Area. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Baltimore. Although almost exactly the same size both geographically and in population, Baltimore is largely considered a suburb of Washington, D.C. One will hope, in time, the merit of each city within the northeast corridor will be in its productivity, not its population or height. In an increasingly remote-access marketplace, the Megalopolis is going to continue to grow from Boston to D.C., even from Portsmouth, NH to Portsmouth, VA. 

We are not, and never have been New York's Sixth Borough, any more than Hoboken or Norfolk, VA. We're a productive cog in the world's largest organic machine, and we're returning to our roots as an international powerhouse. That's all that matters. I'll pass on the "Sixth Borough" t-shirt, and opt for the one that says "The Workshop of the World." 

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