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May 10, 2017 8:07 AM   Subscribe

My young family moved to Philadelphia a couple of years ago from a much smaller city in New England. We still don't feel at home here, but we want to. If you live or used to live in Philadelphia, what made you like/love living here, especially with young children?

We have found what we were hoping for in Philadelphia compared to our previous city: Great for one partner's career, near some family, lots of young children around, low cost of living, good housing and daycare situation, more diverse and progressive, generally safer and with significantly less street harassment. There are things we don't like about Philly, but those are about our own circumstances (family obligations) or seem true of any major city in the US (aggressive gentrification, racism, and inequality).

I want to know what has made other transplants to Philadelphia feel like they belong here, hopefully things that we could do or make ourselves. Was it buying a house/condo, instead of renting? Moving into or out of a neighborhood? A place you could hang out with your kids? Getting involved in an organization or activity? Learning something specific about the city? (Looking for Philadelphia-specific recommendations, please.)
posted by Sockanatic to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Could you share where you are currently living, neighborhood wise. Your experience, especially with young children, can vary quite a bit, depending on where you live.
posted by gudrun at 8:17 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

There are so many interesting things to do and see in Philly! What are you interested in? What neighborhood do you live in?

If you haven't gone yet, the Wissahickon trail in NW section of Philly is a MUST. It is incredibly beautiful, and in the city. It's accessible by public transit, too.

The Free Libraries are great for activities and community.

In the summer, there are lots and lots of outdoor activities, street fairs...there are a bunch of can take classes in pretty much anything...

For community, there are religious organizations of all stripes, political activist organizations....

I think if you could be a little more specific, that would help narrow things down.
posted by bearette at 8:19 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]

i live just outside Philly and can help you out. Memail if you want more details.
Agree that its a great city and definitely neighbourhood makes or breaks your environment here.

Tell me specific things that would make it more homely. I and other posters can go from there and give you reccomendations.
posted by radsqd at 8:59 AM on May 10

I would recommend getting more involved in your neighborhood. Whether it's volunteering to plant trees or joining the local little league, I find that getting to know more people, especially people who have lived there a LONG time, helps me to root into a location. Developing a community of all shapes, sizes, and ages helps you to feel like you're a part of something bigger than just your family. If you're religious or curious, a church can help with this - it automatically has a lot of different ages of people.

Getting to know your neighbors - like next door - also helps you to feel more grounded and at home.
posted by hydra77 at 9:27 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

Some more specifics (like neighborhood) would be super-helpful, but some general things in the meantime:

Was it buying a house/condo, instead of renting? Moving into or out of a neighborhood? A place you could hang out with your kids?

Buying was big for us, but mostly because we couldn't afford to buy where we were (90% young singletons or super-rich families in Old City), and ended up buying to a cheaper neighborhood (ye olde rapidly gentrifying Kensington) with roughly 1,000,000,000 young families much like ours. The neighborhood is starting to develop businesses that cater to this kid-ness, like the number of playspaces/day cares opening up, as well as hipster family joints like La Colombe with its wide, stroller-friendly aisles and the basically-made-for-parents-with-rambunctious-toddler space in the back, or Philly Bagels, where they give you a free mini-bagel if you come in with a baby.

Another part of it has been developing regular Philly-scheduled things to look forward to -- like, visiting Spruce Street Harbor Park when it opens in the spring, and going to the Winter Village at Christmas. We used to do Philly Fringe, but now that we've got a kid, are probably skipping it and will susbtitute with the Philly Science Festival when he's a little older. For this kinda thing, uwishunu can be helpful. The events can be kinda underwhelming, but that's part of the joy of living in Philly -- hey, the Swedish-American cultural museum is kinda like just two rooms, but the gift shop is fun, and then you get to tool around in Roosevelt Park!

And finally, something that makes me feel like a real insider in Philly is knowing about the real estate around me. For example, if a building site is going up, I find it comforting to know that yes, it's going to be a _____________ and is being done by the same people who did ______________________. Or if I walk by a cool historical building with an out-of-town friend on the way to lunch, I can tell them a fact about the history of the building or some local tidbit.

For the first, Naked Philly and Plan Philly are invaluable reading, with the first having more of a rah-rah developer's POV and the second being more about public policy relating to development. The Curbed subsite for Philly also has good real estate porn if you like to look at glossy realtor photos (and boy, do I.)

For the second, Hidden City Philly is pretty much the bestest. It's deep dive Philly architecture and history and goodness, and their tours are a lot of fun, and can be a good thing for older kids. Geology bike tours! Tours of historic graveyards! If you work in Center City, the Forgotten Chestnut/Walnut/Sansom street tours make the streetscape much more interesting.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:42 AM on May 10 [5 favorites]

You should definitely look up your RCO(s) and check out a meeting or two. If you have multiple RCOs, that can mean that one splintered off from the other over some conflict or something, so try the other(s) if you don't like the first.

After college I lived (rented) in one neighborhood for 7 years and never got involved, and never really felt like it was "my" neighborhood. We bought in West Passyunk to avoid entrenched attitudes in Girard Estate and gentrification conflict in Point Breeze but easy access to the (very different) amenities offered by both, plus a quick bike ride to East Passyunk. My wife is on the board of the RCO and a nearby CDC.
posted by supercres at 9:46 AM on May 10

Life has taught me that what makes a place feel like home is the people we know rather than the things we do.

I personally like living in places where I run into people I know when I go out, where there's a social function almost every week, etc.

Expand your real life social circle (friends, acquaintances, like minded families, etc.) and socialize.
posted by Kwadeng at 10:24 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]

What worked for me was becoming part of my local neighborhood. I'm not much of a joiner so I did it by going to my neighborhood coffeeshop everyday. I met people in a low-stress way and now I have any number of neighbors that I like and hang out with regularly.

If you say where you are, I might be able to recommend coffeeshops to try out.
posted by mcduff at 11:05 AM on May 10

- Center City, but may be interested in moving to another neighborhood. We're in good shape financially for Philly but not top 20% good.
- Definitely looking for places or activities in Philly where we could meet other young families and/or where to socialize with our childless friends (with kids in tow, since we aren't made of money.) It's hard to know from event listings which events are good for that.
- Our interests are pretty domestic, kids, pets, etc. Lefty politics. Geeky stuff but not Geek Culture.
- Kids activities seem really expensive? Are there places without $17-30 tickets?
- The RCO recommendation is extremely helpful.
posted by Sockanatic at 12:28 PM on May 10

Getting a dog helped me a lot when I lived in Roxborough. I was out every day walking the dog in the neighborhood, and I got to be on small-talk terms with several of them who also had dogs because we saw each other all the time.
posted by coppermoss at 12:35 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

Ah, Center City. There are pockets that have more character, and more neighborhood feel, but if you're in one of the residential high-rises next to the office buildings or living among people who are only in Philly for a couple years for education or work, it's really easy to feel cut off and weirdly alienated. I was there for a couple years, and didn't realize what I was missing until we started venturing out of our bubble.

In terms of places to hang out with your kids and childless friends, I mostly know my neighborhood, but it's super easy to get to from Center City if you're will to hop on the Market-El line for a 10 minute ride to the stroller-accessible Girard stop, and it's also where Cool Stuff is happening these days. There's the La Colombe flagship mentioned above, which is both kid AND coffee-snob friendly AND has liquor. Pretty close by to that is Frankford Hall during a non-peak time (think 2 p.m on a Sunday, has ping pong tables and lots of space for kids and a laid back atmosphere, though the chairs can make securing a booster seat tricky ASK ME HOW I KNOW), and Fette Sau (another Starr joint right next door, barbecue, informal atmosphere and lots of space).

Those can all get a little pricey, but Spruce Harbor Park is free, has games and stuff for kids/room for them to run around, and food-truck style comestibles while still letting you bring a picnic. (If you play Pokemon Go, or your kids are of age to, it is also a pretty good place to catch a frightening number of water Pokemon.) In addition, The Oval is probably coming back to the Parkway this summer -- games and stuff for kids, room to run around, food truck style comestibles. I think they had a full-on beer garden last year. Both the Oval and Spruce Harbor get super-crowded at peak times in nice weather, but YMMV.

A comment on the RCO's: some are more friendly to renters than others.

Feel free to Memail me if you'd like more detail, or you wanna talk. I have Feelings About Philly.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:26 PM on May 10

Transplant to Philly going on 19 years ago now. I love it here and it's my chosen forever home.

But that said, moving to a new place as an adult has its weird, hard moments. Especially since there are a lot of people who live in Philly who grew up there, or in the neighboring 'burbs, and there are way fewer than six degrees of separation between almost anyone. I feel a little left out sometimes when my friends have all this shared history going back over 20 years -- even friends who didn't know each other back in the day often discover overlapping connections. But no-one is actually trying to make me feel left out, they don't find my questions or stories to be boring, and we bond over other common interests anyway. This is aided by the cultural practice of Philadelphians (myself included) being physically unable to resist sharing their opinions on absolutely anything. So my point is, when you're having a rough week, don't sell yourself short on your ability to connect with people.

I loved living in Wash Square West when I was younger and single and I definitely felt part of my neighborhood at the time, but it's true that in Center City it's more difficult for households to feel connected with each other. Lots of people you see on the street are visiting from somewhere else, neighbors move in and out regularly, apartments are smaller, fewer families with children. The few families I know who live in Center City are very involved with their church, and have built community that way.

But you're probably going to be better off deciding which rowhouse neighborhood feels right for you and moving there. It is much, much easier to feel part of the neighborhood when you're in a rowhouse like everyone else, and the kids can play in the street, and you get to know other young families at the park, and you can all fret over your school cachement together, and keep track of when the pools open, and dig up all the close by cool free stuff to do with kiddos. I migrated south to the Passyunk area, fell in love (with the neighborhood and, later, my partner) and we never considered living anywhere else. Another group of my friends has settled in Fishtown, and yet another have settled in Fairmount. The neighborhoods all have their own pros and cons and personalities, and you'll probably be drawn to one over another for ineffable reasons.
posted by desuetude at 11:05 PM on May 10

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