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Monica Yant Kinney: Why is Philly still so parochial?

The good news, or so we're told, is that suburbanites aren't afraid of the city anymore and that college grads aren't fleeing the second they earn their degrees.

The good news, or so we're told, is that suburbanites aren't afraid of the city anymore and that college grads aren't fleeing the second they earn their degrees.

Both developments, teased out of separate surveys released last week, should help Philadelphia get over its famous inferiority complex.

After all, the Pew Charitable Trusts' new poll found that 81 percent of folks living in the seven counties surrounding the city think Philly is a swell place to dine, shop, cheer, or drink wine - even if most wouldn't dream of living there.

College students prefer beer, but more than half of those responding to the Campus Philly study say they'd stick around town after graduation, presuming they can land a job.

So what's the downside?

That this charming, if provincial, place remains so hung up about who lives where that we still need to conduct polls to ask "Why?"

Mean streets

In the 1990s, I chronicled the woes of young professionals who loved working at firms along the Route 202 corridor, but felt like aliens in the land of minivans.

"I didn't take a job in the suburbs," said a 29-year-old lawyer, "expecting to become a suburbanite."

At the time, I was the same age as my subjects and similarly assigned to an office in the 610 area code. But unlike those prisoners of bland expressway apartment complexes, I rented a place with exposed brick walls in Old City.

Sitting at a desk on Broad Street a few years later, I wrote about the "brain drain," the crisis of college grads skipping town immediately after shedding cap and gown. I was almost 30, a newlywed house-hunting in South Jersey - to the horror of some friends and many sources.

They equated moving out of the city with abandoning the city. I did not, since I spent most of my waking hours and a good portion of my paycheck in the urban jungle. Such is Philadelphia's ultra-personal and peculiar parochialism.

I've lived in the Midwest, California, and Florida, but in no other place have people fixated as much on the hyper-local specifics of where one rests her head: What neighborhood, what parish, what corner, ward or precinct.

A native Philadelphian once told me I couldn't possibly comprehend a political dispute in our legislative district because I lived north of Market Street and he, south. Readers and politicians occasionally bark that I forfeited the right to write about Philadelphia by not residing there.

If that's really how we think about each other, is it any wonder the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers remain the local equivalent of the continental divide?

Home is relative

Ted Hershberg knows "Greater Philadelphians" may sound clunky, but it's who we are. So embrace it.

The regionalism guru delights at the news that more suburbanites see a link between their fates and the city's. He's tickled his son moved to Northern Liberties.

But as long as Philadelphia remains an island - unlike, say, Cook County, which envelops Chicago and 30 suburban townships - territorial grudges linger. (Don't believe me? Check out the biting back-and-forth on

"It's easier for people on both sides of the proverbial border to indulge prejudices and play to stereotypes," notes Hershberg, a public policy and history professor at Penn. "There's a lot of anger out there that makes it harder to feel good about each other."

Really? Still? I tell Hershberg that the parking lot at Wegmans is often filled with distinctive Priuses from PhillyCarShare. I've spied former Mayor John F. Street out and about in Cherry Hill way more than I ever did in the city.

If these supposedly life-defining boundaries are porous when it comes to buying artisanal cheese or catching a movie, who cares if the art lovers flocking to my old neighborhood on First Fridays go home to sleep in the suburbs?

"We want more people coming into cities and experiencing the excitement," Hershberg notes. "It shouldn't matter where they live."