Philadelphians bristle at any comparisons that reduce the City of Brotherly Love as an extension of the City that Never Sleeps.
Yet the city didn’t implode when a slice of New York City opened in Fishtown Thursday. In fact, Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia opened to hearty crowds.
But if history is any indicator, Philly isn’t suddenly cool with New York cultural exports.
Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia opening night attendees even made sure to boo at the mention of its namesake city. Here’s why defending and rooting for Philly will continue to be as much a part of residents’ collective DNA as complaining about any of the city’s shortcomings, which only Philadelphians can do, no one else.
A rivalry for the ages
The City of Brotherly Love was home to the First Bank of the United States and the first stock exchange, making it the first financial capital of the United States.
New York City, however, would assume the title by the 1830s.
NYC lured the banks and harnessed the commercial trade potential of its harbors, which are more accessible to the ocean than Philadelphia’s, and became all the more attractive with the opening of the Erie Canal.
Drexel University politics professor Richardson Dilworth has looked into Philly’s rivalry with New York. He said while today’s gripes “mimic the fun rivalry of baseball teams,” back then, New York’s ascendance as a trade and financial powerhouse was a real threat and an early challenge to Philly’s identity.
“There are real economic consequences if a local bank or local company moves its headquarters from Philadelphia to somewhere else like New York, and that has happened a lot in our history,” said Dilworth.
Comparisons, it’s how our brains work
National media outlets have often reduced Philadelphia to a sandwich or a more affordable alternative to New York City in their requisite visitor guides. The latter selling point has been embraced by the city as it competes for coveted tourism dollars and even some real estate agents selling homes.
In some ways, our brains can’t help but compare cities, explained Jeffrey Parker, an urban sociologist teaching at the University of New Orleans.
“Everybody moves around the world with ideas in their head, so when you come to Philadelphia, that doesn’t mean you stop thinking about all the other places,” said Parker. “Part of the way you define any place — whether it’s a city, or a country, or your block, or a coffee shop — part of the way you identify it is by comparing it to other places.”
The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau uses New York as a reference point when trying to persuade organizations to host their events here. Vice president of marketing and communications Joe Heller said Philadelphia’s lower overnight-stay costs — up to 30% less than New York — is a selling point the bureau uses, as well as the city’s easy-to-access airport, walkability, and green spaces.
Meanwhile, some Philly real estate companies use New York as a yardstick when selling promises of reasonably priced homes, shorter commutes, and “insert-up-and-coming-scene-here” to lure Big Apple residents.
Looking for a Williamsburg feel? Try Fishtown, says one blog. Upper East Side? Look near the Art Museum and Fairmount.
Temple University assistant professor of sociology Kevin Loughran said the influx of outside financial capital and the influence it yields can crystallize feelings of an invasion.
“I think resentment can emerge and it can be a rallying cry, it can be the sort of thing that can bond people in some as they see this common threat,” said Loughran.
In the early aughts, Austin, Texas, residents responded to tech workers and big-box stores changing the character of their city with the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan.
Just a few years ago, “Keep New York Out of Philly” stickers could be spotted in neighborhoods.
NYC branding as a vehicle for gentrification
Loughran said feelings of invasion can vary based on factors that include age and class identifications.
“If you’re more of an old-time working-class resident and the changes that have happened in your community haven’t benefited you, anything branded as New York might further be a representation of those forces of gentrification, forces of global capitalism, or cosmopolitanism,” he said.
Studies have shown gentrification has changed the makeup of neighborhoods and rising rents tend to most affect communities of color, who are displaced before benefiting from any positive changes.
While New Yorkers flocking to Philly in recent years are not solely responsible for changing the city’s neighborhoods, newcomers are a concrete source to blame.
Of course, Brooklyn Bowl is simply a music venue.
Brooklyn Bowl founder Peter Shapiro seemed to acknowledge the Philly vs. everybody dynamic while speaking to The Inquirer’s Dan DeLuca. Shapiro said calling the music venue Philly Bowl was on the table at one point but ultimately passed.
“We’ll have to work harder for people to know how cool it is,” said Shapiro. “And then it will stand on its own.”
The next New York City venture to come to Philly will likely have to do the same.