The Urban Renaissance

On our cross-country road trip last may (that started our current adventure), we spent some time in a neighborhood of Philadelphia known as Fishtown.

We were amazed, impressed and hopeful about the things we found there.  Today, we’re back and even more amazed, impressed and hopeful than we were 6 months ago.

Admittedly it’s hard not to look charming in a snowstorm, but this is the view from our Fishtown Air BnB. That’s the Memphis Flats loft project beyond the cemetery.

Fishtown is a densely developed area of narrow streets lined with narrow, 3 story townhouses that was home to the city’s working class 70 years ago.  It’s adjacent to the downtown core and has seen it’s share of the blight that ravaged US cities in the meantime. But through it all, it seems to have maintained a certain livability and that is now translating to a real resurgence.

We flew into Philly yesterday afternoon (pro tip — pay a few extra bucks to avoid the new “Basic Economy” fares — middle seats are not for the older travelers) rented a car and found ourselves in our Air BnB just about an hour after landing.  After settling in, we decided to walk around a bit (yes, we felt perfectly secure doing so) and made a nice evening of it.

Starting with happy hour at Fishtown Social, we had some red wine and small plates to recover from the trauma of being hurtled across three time zones in a few hours. What we found was a busy and lively scene with young professionals gathering to enjoy company and drinks on a Friday evening. We also found that the term “wine bar” can be applied to establishments that seem to care or know little about wine — but let’s keep this thing positive.

Afterwords, we continued our adventure walking south on Frankford to Girard, the southern border of the neighborhood. Along the way we found a large number of shops, bistros and bars that all looked lively, full (but not packed) and inviting. We would have felt comfortable walking into any one of them (and raised the average age considerably by doing so!)

A quick stroll down Girard brought us to the ACME market — a well stocked and maintained full service supermarket in the midst of downtown.  This is an example an essential component to the urban renaissance — quality food services that you can walk to.

Quick aside: It’s been nearly 20 years since we moved out of Pennsylvania and we were happily surprised to find that we could purchase wine in the grocery store. We were also a bit disappointed that it was about 30% more expensive than in our home state of Idaho and that you had to check out a separate check stand if you had alcohol.  I’m sure there’s a reason for that, but I’ve lost track of the arcane world of Pennsylvania state politics (let’s face it, our one state has enough weirdness for anyone to process) so I might be forgiven for not delving into that rabbit hole too deeply.

This morning the snow started falling and we met our daughter at a coffee shop in Frankford and Columbia.  On our way there, we saw a young girl, bundled up in a ski jacket, rushing out the door of her town house, immediately gazing skyward and extending her mittened hands in an attempt to capture a few precious snowflakes. A scene we’ve seen dozens of times in dozens of locales — but it never gets old.

And in a way, that’s what we see here.  Slices of life you can see replayed everywhere — it’s just fills me with hope that you can find them in a urban core that might have been abandoned to decay and crime, but some people cared enough to hang on, and others took the risk to return.

 

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December 9, 2017 at 11:53 am Leave a comment

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