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Barack Obama speaking in Philadelphia last April. [Photo: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times]


BY JESSIE MORGAN-OWENS

Three years ago this month, the New York Times ran a story called “Philadelphia Story: The Next Borough.” The article stuck with me because it reported that the cost of living in Philadelphia is 37 percent lower than New York, making Philly an attractive option for Brooklyn artists just like me. With $800 a month apartments even in tony Rittenhouse Square, a lively arts scene, and a 75-minute train commute, “Philadelphia’s Brooklynization” seemed inevitable.

(The Times ran a telling correction the following week: “An article last Sunday about New York artists who are moving to Philadelphia for housing bargains misstated the location of an $800-a-month apartment in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. It is at 22nd and Spruce Streets, not on the square itself.”)

I’m half of the photography team Morgan & Owens. We live in Brooklyn and are in desperate need of studio space. So when we got the assignment to photograph a feature on Philadelphia for Budget Travel, I did a little research. We spent three days this past week photographing the Philly scene, and we asked everyone we met whether they believe in this “Sixth Borough” hype. Turns out the only Philadelphians who refer to their city this way used to live in New York.

This was my fifth visit, and I’m here to say: Philly has a totally different pace of life and culture. Local quote: “Philly’s dope. Everyone just skates and hangs out.” Apples and Oranges.

So if you’re thinking of finding a new Brooklyn, follow New York Magazine‘s hint and head to Buffalo. If you want an urban alternative to Brooklyn but can’t afford Manhattan, try Center City Philadelphia. It only sort of looks like New York on the surface if you squint, but that might be all the city you require for $800 a month. You might find you like Philly better.

As for us, we’re sticking with Brooklyn for now. Here’s just a few pros and cons I jotted in my notebook while out shooting in the city of brotherly love.

These murals are gorgeous.
How far out does Fairmount Park go?
Parking is a mess, but at least I talked my way out of the ticket.
Ben Franklin owns this town.
Federal tourism is a hit!
I haven’t seen this many homeless people since 1995.
Obama’s acceptance speech, screened in front of Independence Hall, just sparked a 30-person electric slide. Swing state?
Everyone keeps telling me what a small town this is.
Everyone seems to know each other.
Seriously? Beer costs $4?

If you’re thinking of visiting, do it now. Philly’s Fringe Festival is going strong for the next three weeks.

[The photo above comes from the New York Times article “Obama Draws Record Crowd in Philadelphia,” April 19, 2008.]