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Soul of the cities

clarsen's picture

    I first visited Philadelphia a few weeks ago with a friend for a quick day in the city with light shopping and Shake Shack.  My first impression was that Philadelphia was simply like a smaller, less crowded, and slightly cleaner New York.  I quickly felt at home there thanks to the familiarity from the similar architecture, known stores, common and slightly disgusting smells, and recognizable street layout.  Visiting for a second time yesterday I noticed much of the same things I had previously; engine oil near parked cars, a subway system nearly identical to that of New York, sidewalks covered in gum, many museums and galleries, and small parks and gardens. 

   Although there is much Greek architecture in New York as well, I was more aware of it in Philadelphia (perhaps because I’m currently studying it in my Art History class).  The two buildings that stood out clearest because of that were the Free Library of Philadelphia (especially after spending a great deal of time there), and Philadelphia Museum of Art.  All of the columns that I noticed on the buildings were Iconic (topped with a scroll-like design).  The Free Library reminded me greatly of the New York Public Library and I felt like I had to keep reminding myself on this trip that I wasn’t actually in New York.  What also acted as a reminder was how empty the library was compared to one in New York and the differences between them.  An average person in New York is typically in his early thirties/late twenties whereas an average person (from what I saw) in Philadelphia was considerably older and diverse.  I also found the pace of Philly to be a lot slower than New York, which was really refreshing.

   Throughout the day, I referenced the “Big Think Interview With Sharon Zukin” and reflected on her words of gentrifying, over crowding, soul, and authenticity.  When we first arrived in Philly and were on our way to the Free Library, we passed by a park filled with homeless people.  Although there are many homeless men and women in New York, I rarely see them congregated in that way.  Are Philadelphia enforcers more lenient? Is New York so ridiculously over crowded that the homeless are forced to disperse during the day? I often wish that New York was less packed and compared to Philadelphia it is a hundred times more stressful.  There were no traffic jams and I was able to cross the street easily.  Walking around Philly felt more leisurely and like a stroll whereas in New York I am simply concentrating on getting to a destination.

   Philadelphia certainly has the “soul” and “authenticity” that Sharon Zukin spoke so highly of.  After experiencing The Quiet Volume, Amy, Pia, Kate, and I headed to Book Corner.  This second hand bookstore was musty, overstuffed with books, but certainly unique.  It was charming and nice to be in a bookstore that wasn’t a chain or corporation.  Other small stores caught my eye on Walnut Street yet we visited some of my favorite chain stores like Anthropologie, Free People, and Urban Outfitters where I bought a pair of fairly ridiculous holographic shoes. 

   On our way to lunch we passed a farmer’s market, which definitely added to the Philadelphian charm.  We ate lunch a Shake Shack, which I am eternally grateful that there are chains of outside of New York.  When we arrived at the library and put the headphones on I was pretty startled by the whispering voices that sounded like they where straight out of a horror movie.  The exercise, however, definitely made me appreciate, observe, and evaluate my surroundings more.  It also helped me to brainstorm and make comparisons between New York and Philadelphia during the long pauses of silence that weren’t even very silent.  I became more aware of what it means and takes to live in the city, something I often took for granted.