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City of Neighborhoods

March 7, 2007

My new home is now South Philly.  I moved this weekend from University City, and the differences between the two neighborhoods make me feel as if I’ve moved to a different city. 

University City/West Philly is much more open, with wider streets and lots of trees and parks.  Many of the houses have small patches of lawn or garden in the front, setting the row homes back from the sidewalks.  South Philly, on the other hand, has few trees by comparison and much narrower streets–some are so narrow, in fact, that one can’t parallel park without hitting the curb on the opposite side of the street (and it’s not just that I haven’t yet figured out the knack–I’ve seen other people driving up the curbs, too). 

The differences are not only physical, either.  In the Clark Park corner of West Philly, where I lived, I would run into blacks, whites, Asians, Africans, Arabs, Latinos–you name the race or ethnicity, I would run into a representative in West Philly.  In my new neck of South Philly, on the other hand, I see almost entirely white people, many of them of Italian ancestry.  I commented on this yesterday to my housemate David; I mentioned how much “whiter” the southern half of the Broad Street subway line is than the Frankford-Market line, which runs to and from West Philly.  David agreed, but suggested that Philly, even South Philly, is much more diverse/less segregated than other cities he’s been in.  He mentioned the close-by Vietnamese community and the Mexican community to the northwest of our neighborhood as examples of the diverse groups living within close proximity of each other.

The City of Neighborhoods.  I’ve heard this nickname for Philly before, and while the City uses it as a selling point, I can’t help but notice that however diverse Philadelphia might be, for the most part the neighborhoods don’t overlap–that is, they don’t interact.  I might be a few blocks away from the Vietnamese community, but will I ever see Vietnamese people walking on my block?  Will I see Italian-Americans and Vietnamese chatting on the streets or in the shops?  I’m not closing my mind to the possibility that the different ethnic groups in the city really do interact to quite an extent, but that has not been my experience so far.

Anyway, I’m excited to get to know a new part of Philly.  I’ll report back my findings as I am able…

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