Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Where to next?

BZ just wrote an extensive and thoughtful post on the potential 7-15 year plan for our broader cohort. He explains why the current urban non-affiliated model will have ongoing relevance, even as it become less relevant for us personally as our demographics change. I'd point out that unlike NYC this may be less of a worry in other major urban areas where there is somewhat affordable housing stock within miles of the main center. But that's a secondary argument. BZ's big question is where we should all move to. I am open to thinking about the question even if I am open to reframing it as, where should all the people who will priced out of NYC move.

A geographic transition from expensive urban centers en masse to more sustainable places has at least one solid precedent:

Personally i was born and spent the very early part of my life on the UWS. My folks were active in the early havurah movement, and along with many friends from that world moved to Mt. Airy, in Philadelphia. Folks came from Ma'at, NJ, Havurat Shalom, and several other places. They greeted long residing Philadelphians and helped stabalize a shrinking synagogue that now has a pair of minyanim.

Why Philadelphia?

It had many factors that made it a good location:

High Quality Affordable Housing Stock

There were many high-quality houses, many with character, available for inexpensive prices. Well-sized stone houses are very common in Philadelphia dating back to when Ben Franklin, himself a witness to the Great Fire of London (1666), lobbied Philadelphia to prevent the building of wooden homes. Cities with a large quantity of housing stock at reasonable quality and price are obviously much preferable.

A quick search suggests that in Manayunk, a philadelphia neighborhood near the one my parents live in, you can still get a 4-Br house for $250K. That is about the price of a 1br condo or efficiency in a similar DC neighborhood.

Availability of Many Sorts Jobs

The Philadelphia area has a high concentration of major colleges and universities including Temple, Penn, Drexel, Villanova, LaSalle, St. Joes, Arcadia (formerly Beaver College), Haverford, Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, as well as several medical schools in addition to the Universities listed.
Philadelphia also had a major Rabbinical school which meant both staff and students would mostly reside locally.

Wikipedia has a good passage on Philadelphia's economy:

The city is home to the Philadelphia Stock Exchange and many major Fortune 500 companies, including cable television and internet provider Comcast, insurance companies CIGNA and Lincoln Financial Group, energy company Sunoco, food services company Aramark, Crown Holdings Incorporated, chemical makers Rohm and Haas Company and FMC Corporation, the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, Boeing helicopters division, and automotive parts retailer Pep Boys.

The federal government plays a large role in Philadelphia as well. The city served as the capital city of the United States, before the construction of Washington, D.C. Today, the East Coast operations of the United States Mint are based near the historic district, and the Federal Reserve Bank's Philadelphia division is based there as well. Philadelphia is also home to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Philadelphia is also an important center for medicine,[opinion needs balancing] a distinction that it has held since the colonial period, when Pennsylvania Hospital was North America's first. The University of Pennsylvania, the city's largest private employer, runs an extensive medical system. There are also major hospitals affiliated with Temple University School of Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine, and Thomas Jefferson University. Philadelphia also has three distinguished children's hospitals: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (located adjacent to the Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania), St. Christopher's Hospital, and the Shriners' Hospital. In the city's northeast section are Albert Einstein Hospital and the Fox Chase Cancer Center. Together, health care is the largest sector of employment in the city. Several medical professional associations are headquartered in Philadelphia.

In part because of Philadelphia's long-running importance as a center for medical research, the region is a major center for the pharmaceutical industry. GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Wyeth, Merck, GE Healthcare, Johnson and Johnson and Siemens Medical Solutions are just some of the large pharmaceutical companies with operations in the region.

Having this many private and public sector options provides a wide swath of available employment making it more likely that people will find work they enjoy. In my parents generation there was a disproportionate number of university professors so the availability of many universities key. In our generation we seem to have large numbers of public interest lawyers, teachers, trade unionists, and Jewish professionals. So finding places that provide those sorts of jobs will prove important.


As Ruby-K pointed out transportation is important. Does one need an auto? How is the mass transit? Bikeability? How convenient is it to other places we might want to go?

Philadelphia has good but unexceptional mass transit, is quite convenient to NYC and DC due to its prominent role as an Amtrak hub, and has an airport which is a USAir and SouthWest hub.


There may be a wider diversity of thought on this issue than the others, but it seems to me that having substantial ethnic diversity is important.

Quality of Public Space

Are there good parks? local parks to do sports in? Places to picnic? Places to hike? Good restaurants? Pubs? Places open after 11pm?

I am sure there are other key issues but these are the ones that come to mind initially.

This post may imply that I am a Philadelphia loyalist. I find its location convenient, its parks beautiful, progressive streak comfortable, and the sports teams (not so much the hockey team) close to my heart, but frankly, it's a challenge to navigate my parents particular neighborhood without a car. There are lots of good Philadelphia neighborhoods to consider, Manayunk, Germantown, Roxborough, several in West and South Philadelphia. That said, I imagine there are other cities with affordable housing, good jobs, and the various criterion i have already discussed. Perhaps Baltimore, Allentown, Trenton, Bethlehem, New Haven, Providence, or Bridgeport would offer appeal.


At 6/27/2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget about the Philly suburbs. You get larger houses, larger yards, better public schools, and a better Jewish infrastructure than most of Philadelphia itself.

At 6/28/2007 , Blogger bpt said...

the inner ring suburbs are quite nice, like Elkins Park. But a lot of the progressive Jews who have moved there are Mt. Airy wannabes!


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