You’re burned out on Brooklyn, you can’t afford Manhattan, you’re too bratty for Queens, so what do you do? My friend Ben, a recent Brooklyn ex-pat, has the answer: “If you want to live in Brooklyn and pay half in rent, move to Philly!” he proclaimed, the night before he left the island for good.
I moved to Brooklyn from New Orleans a year ago, and the way I look at it, I got myself into this mess, so now I’m committed to see the suffering through while trying to put together a career in publishing. But Ben got me thinking more critically about this life of unrealistic expectations and disproportionate salary-to-rent ratios, physical and mental jaundice. And he’s not my only friend to flee what is sometimes (condescendingly) referred to as the “sixth borough.”
With lower rents and cheaper beer, is Philly the dream of Brooklyn, actually realized? Or was Daria right when she said, “Life sucks no matter what, so don’t be fooled by location changes”? I asked three friends who cashed in their Metrocards for SEPTA passes.
Why did they leave?
As much as they love the cheap rent and cheese steaks, girls were the driving factor for two ex-pats. Originally from Boston, Ben, 26, moved to Brooklyn after college, lived in Bushwick and then Crown Heights and worked as a newspaper reporter. He was in a long-distance relationship with a girl who lived in Philly — an added frustration to his feeling of general malaise in “Sucks City,” as he called NYC. Now they are together in the city of brotherly love, where he works at a law firm.
Born and raised in Park Slope, 27-year-old Billy ditched Brooklyn for Philly because his girlfriend got a great job there. In Brooklyn, he was co-editor at a basketball magazine and then an M.F.A. grad student in fiction; in Philly, he does freelance journalism and copywriting.
Originally from Bar Harbor, Maine, Julie, 27, moved to Brooklyn after college, where she at first worked as a full-time photo assistant, then juggled a combination of freelance photo assistant, bartender and nanny. In Philly, she works full time at a jewelry store doing graphic design, photography and creating visual displays. “Because it’s slower here and less expensive, I’ve found I have more mental space to think about what I want to do, where I want to go, and spend more time working on my art.”
Yes, Philly really is cheaper
According to 2011 national Cost of Living Index averages, residents of New York, Washington D.C. and Boston have to earn up to 59% more to enjoy the same standard of living as a Philadelphia resident. Another telling stat: the Consumer Price Index is 100 for New York, compared to 77.7 for Philadelphia. This means that we pay a third more for basics like food, housing, transportation, clothing, fuel and medical care and so on.
When our representatives decamped for Philadelphia, their average rent dropped from $745 per month to $503. And they all got more for their money, dwelling-wise.
Ben’s rent is half compared to what he paid in Brooklyn, and he lives close enough to walk to work. “Now that I’m here I’m just deliriously happy to be feeling like I can breathe, no more asshole roommates, no more asshole boss,” he told me. “I feel like I broke out of a real nasty downward spiral.”
Billy says he lives “like a king” freelancing in Philly compared to when he had a full-time job in New York. “I am the most semi-employed person I know. I probably billed under $1,000 to clients last month.”
Yet his apartment in Fishtown, which he calls the “Bushwick of Philly,” is a 1,000 square foot loft with 12-foot ceilings and a private entrance.
“It pretty much looks like the Gossip Girl version of a Brooklyn apartment,” he says. “My neighborhood is probably the future Brooklyn, in that it’s full of young people, but there are no businesses. Fishtown is basically made up of bars [Barcade recently opened up here] and crackheads stealing scrap metal, and then the scrap metal place where they sell it.”
Julie believes living in Philly means finally being able to cut the cord from your parents, even on a part-time job. “In NYC, you have to have money, or parents who give you money, to live healthy and happily,” she says. “Here, you can have a house with a studio in it for a price that’s actually within reach.”
But you can’t get a job there either
In fact, the unemployment rate is actually higher in Philly — 50 percent higher than in Brooklyn. According to the 2010 census, 15.1% of those in age-group 25 to 44 were unemployed in Philadelphia County, compared to 10.1% in Kings County. While Philadephia is a hub of health, research and education, with more than 80 colleges and universities, it plays second or third fiddle to New York in creative fields.
Ben, always a realist, believes that as with anywhere, “dream jobs” are still hard to find. But at least in Philly, he’s “no longer feeling career desperation like I’m doomed to being a slave rowing an ancient ship while being hit with a bullwhip.”
To Billy, jobs seem pretty scarce, but he’s not really looking. “I dread the thought of ever having to be responsible again. Some day, maybe, but not now.”
And Julie’s content to make art and work at a jewelry store. “New York makes sense if you have defined your career and are living successfully there. I’m not in that place yet, so I don’t want to be struggling just to live in NYC when I need to be spending my energy on more important things.”
They have cheaper beer and [ ________ ] sports teams
Beer is cheaper in Philly. According to an unofficial census by our ex-pats, draft pints are $3 to $5 there, as opposed to $5 to $7 in Brooklyn. Additionally, a can of PBR and a shot of well whiskey ($5 in Brooklyn) is $3 there.
And who needs to wait for the Nets to come to Brooklyn? Philly has its own sports teams, and their games are relatively cheap. “I got fourth row seats at a 76ers game for $80!” Billy says. If you feel comfortable cutting your allegiances to Eli, (or at least keeping your real preferences to yourself) or if you’re game to talk yourself into developing a crush on stud second baseman Chase Utley, or two-time Cy Young award winner Roy Halladay, then you definitely have enough replacement teams to keep you going. But if you’re a Giants fan, keep that to yourself.
Would I have friends in Philly?
Julie says she actually has more of them than in Brooklyn. “Life is a little slower here, people are able to have houses and therefore actually have people over — like dinner parties! Or less formally, it’s really easy to just walk over to a friend’s house for a glass of wine or dinner, which is something I do often.”
Ben’s outlook on moving is more in line with Daria’s sentiment, but he can breathe easier in Philadelphia. “No place is perfect, and life sucks everywhere,” he says. “One thing I can say in favor of Philly is that people here aren’t overbearing prima donnas who are constantly trying to justify themselves and their sad, shitty lives.”
But something must suck in Philly, right?
Why yes, you are more likely to get murdered there. Philly closed out 2011 with the highest per-capita murder rate in the country, with 324 homicides (population 1.53 million), meaning your chances of getting whacked are 1 in 5,000. Last year, Brooklyn saw its lowest murder rate since 1963, with 195 murders in a population of 2.5 million. In other words, Brooklyn offers a reassuring 1 in 12,500 chance of a violent demise.
Says Billy: “The trade-off is Philly’s an incredibly cheap city full of young people, but it’s a little shadier than New York,” he says. “A guy got jumped and beaten unconscious by a gang two blocks away from my house. And people are really pissed off here. They’re constantly yelling at each other.”
OK, so are you moving to Philly?
No, I’m still happy living here. The soup dumplings alone satisfy me. I love reading on my Q train commute into the city, taking in the skyline as I cross the bridge. (Their subway shuts down at midnight.) I even dig the break dancers on my train. I live in Prospect Lefferts Gardens on Ocean Avenue, directly across the street from Prospect Park, where I go running with my dog every afternoon. When the city makes me claustrophobic, I can escape half an hour to the nearest beach, a couple hours from a cabin in the Catskills.
But ask me in another year.