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What it's like to live in Philadelphia

March 14, 2014, 8:57 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 1262

By @mariocantin

Philadelphia is the sixth-largest metropolitan area of the United States, as well as its birth place. It is brimming with history, arts and culture. And the Philly cheese steak sandwich is definitely adding to its fame.

To tell us about this illustrious city, we turn to well-spoken Alexis Sachdev, a reporter, writer and editor in the Greater Philadelphia Area, who has gracefully accepted to be interviewed for this story.

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Alexis was born in what she describes as a small, cookie-cutter suburb of Allentown, Pa., having lived there until going to college. She went on to say, " Macungie – though geographically close to Allentown, Pennsylvania’s third-largest city – is about as far from urban life as one can find. It’s Stepford in its design and very homogenous. Both of my parents are immigrants, so it was difficult growing up in a place where I didn’t feel I fit in like everyone else." Aside from her hometown, Philadelphia is the only other city she's lived in.

She moved to Philly in Fall 2009 when starting her freshman year at Temple University. Alexis finished classes in December 2013 and still lives in the city and works in southern New Jersey.

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When asked what had brought her to make that particular choice, she explained, "I applied to several universities in Pennsylvania and New York. While I had acceptance letters elsewhere, I was wary of going to small private schools. I originally wanted to be a historian with a highly specialized niche. I think I had a nagging feeling that I wouldn’t stick with it, or maybe going somewhere with more options was the responsible choice. It wasn’t about the city so much.

But now I don’t want to leave. Why not? I think when you build a life somewhere as a young adult, it’s difficult to pack up and leave…sometimes because it’s living evidence of what you’ve achieved and how you became the person you are, or because you have these contacts and references and a professional support system (which is so very important in journalism), or because it’s scary to move away from your friends and your emotional support system, or simply because you just don’t have the funds.

It was a mix of all of those for me. Before I was hired at my job, I had the option of living with one of my siblings in California. I think that’s the dream for most people, right? But I didn’t feel like my time was up in Philly – there was more I had to do before I could walk away and move on."

Describing her initial impression of The City of Brotherly Love, as it's sometimes referred to, our urbanite said, " Well because I grew up only an hour away from the city and both of my siblings had lived here, I had visited Philly thousands of times prior to moving. But visiting with your parents and going out to dinner in the touristy areas is a very myopic experience.

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So my initial impression upon moving here was, in a word, exhilarating. I made a point to see, explore and experience as much as I could – and Philly, as a diverse city (and the city of neighborhoods), definitely gave me room to do that. But it’s overwhelming for an 18 year old to go from a sleepy suburb to this energetic, buzzing city."

Commenting on whether that perception had changed since, she added, "To an extent. I don’t think I romanticize the experience anymore. I had to toughen up a lot. As a woman, it’s difficult to leave your house without some creep catcalling you, following you, staring you down. You have to build up a lot of armor here.

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I will say, I’m glad I ended up not going to school in New York. It’s so inexpensive to live well in Philly as a young adult, and I don’t think I lost out on any major life experiences being here instead."

I asked what our explorer had since discovered about Philadelphia that she couldn’t have known at the onset. " Before I moved, I had this idea that Philly was a dirty, dangerous city of bad accents and diehard Eagles fans. Though it’s true to an extent, I think the stereotype is mostly unfair. My friends will still ask me if I carry pepper spray with me (I don’t), and my mother will still call to tell me about shootings in my neighborhood. Yes, I’ve been mugged before, but that can happen in any city. (And it was on New Year’s Eve at 4 a.m.; my boyfriend and I were stumbling targets.)

But there’s so much to Philly beyond that. Buzzfeed wants you to believe we eat “sof pressles” and “wooder ice” and scream and kill people all day, but it’s not utter anarchy here. It’s not a third-world country of carb-loading sports fans. There’s a pulse in the city of artsy, talented, driven people – many of whom I feel lucky to know personally – who contribute to a very vibrant culture. It doesn’t often get media attention, but in a way I think we’re happy about that.

Oh, also: Geno’s and Pat’s are not the best cheesesteaks. Everyone needs to stop thinking that. I won’t offer a recommendation, as my favorite is hotly contested, but you have to trust me on this", she exclaimed.

I also inquired as to how life in Philly differs from living in other cities, American or otherwise. "I’ve traveled fairly extensively, both in the US and abroad, I haven’t lived anywhere else. I don’t think I can offer a perspective on that, as I’ve only seen other cities as a tourist", she expressed candidly, and then added, " I can comment that people here are very real. Philadelphians aren’t shy about how hard life is – and it is here for many."

What appeals most to Alexis is creativity; she craves it, in fact -- both the ability to express her own, and to see others' expression of it. Having come from the suburbs, she finds that Philly definitely delivers on that front. She put it this way, "Music, arts, food, live performances, drag shows… all of it. I love it. I’ve found there’s something for everyone here if you take the time."

With regards to which aspects of the metropolis she wishes were different, she said, "I think many people are well aware of the education crisis in the city. A handful of my friends work in education, and I spent some time reporting on the problems; I think if we were to take a stronger stance on public education (because that’s the key…I don’t trust charter schools or the motives behind implementing them), then we’re investing in our city and our city’s future. I think if we don’t make education a priority, we’re only going to magnify the aggressive gentrification that’s been happening in Philly over the last 20 odd years, and so it’s this double-edged sword we all tiptoe around, but from my perspective it’s like, stop building casinos and sports stadiums and start keeping kids healthy and in school."

Regarding the importance of understanding Philadelphia’s various neighborhoods, either before moving there or simply prior to a visit, our city lover explained, "Don’t confine yourself to Center City. Yes, it’s the neighborhood that will give you a rush of city life, with the cabs and skyscrapers and Burberry and Louis Vuitton storefronts on Walnut Street, but I think most Philadelphians would agree that it’s culturally pretty empty.

Every neighborhood is a great pocket of something. As one of the country’s most culturally diverse cities, you can get food, music and arts from nearly any nation, or find jazz clubs, basement concerts, pizza museums, outdoor concert venues, green space… We have it all.

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And what I think I love best about Philly is its walkability between neighborhoods. Yes, we have public transportation, but you’re not constantly battling off hoards of people on a three-block walk. It’s definitely a bonus being able to walk to a friend’s house or meet up for dinner, even if you’re technically across the city from each other."

I asked what other insights she could provide about Philly which would not easily be found by simply doing a Google search. Alexis had this advice to offer, "Don’t do a Google search. Seriously.

In my experience, Philly is a city of hidden gems, and the best way to eat, drink and see your way through the city is to find someone – anyone – who lives in the city and asking them for a recommendation. I’ve had people stop me on the street asking for a place to go to dinner and I’m happy to direct them away from tourist traps and into the throes of gastropub godliness."

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I was asking whether Philadelphia offered her a career advantage. She responded, "I work in Burlington County, N.J., which is much smaller than Philly and definitely not as vibrant or energetic. But I think studying and living in Philly gives you some tough skin, some grit. The things I’ve seen and the people I’ve talked to and interviewed have given me some valuable perspective on life, and made me a better journalist…and person."

If there were another city in the world that Alexis would contemplate living in, it would probably be San Francisco. "I love that SF has this health-driven culture; it’s a city that encourages you to take care of yourself," she affirms.

In parting, she cautions, "Don’t park on the street; it’s not worth the agony".

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