There is a lot about Philly that can be encapsulated in the metaphor of fireworks. They’re illegal here, but fuck if you would know that come 4th of July or New Years or…possibly any summer night when the Phillies win. People set them off everywhere, because this is a DIY city that’s also a little bit lawless. You make your own fucking light.
I’m from DC, which is a city with a limited amount of spotlight and way too many people trying to stand in it. Stay in the shadows and no one cares about you. DC is a city with lots of poverty that no one knows about. Philly is poor too - an estimated 1/4 of the population lives in poverty - but it’s impossible to ignore. Poverty threads through even the nicest of neighborhoods. Philly is low on resources and always falling apart in one way or another, but people here are often generous and kind. They’re creative in how they approach their cities’ problems, setting up urban gardens and painting murals on even the most desolate and dreary of streets. They raise money through one million tiny community events held on street corners, block parties, in churches. Sometimes the fragmentation of Philly’s social justice network is frustrating, but it’s also heartening. A lot of people love this city and want to help it survive and thrive, even if they don’t always agree on how to do it.
Philly is a mess. Parts of it are dirty, abandoned, decrepit. Other parts are beautiful. Class inequality is evident here in the way it is everywhere, but Philly still has a working class. People can still afford to own houses even when they’re not millionaires, and as a result, people stick around. They build communities and have families and settle in. This is a city that thrives on people knowing each other and connecting, but not just for the purpose of advancing in some ridiculous game of thrones. I found my house by talking to people. I bought my car because I talked to people. I found restaurants and stores and coffee shops and parks because people told me about them. I have never felt more connected than I do in Philly, and I’ve only been here a little over two years. I love that.
Philly is no bullshit. Pretentious people get laughed out of the room. It’s an in joke kind of a place that loves making outsiders feel dumb because they don’t know its secrets, but it’s not exclusive. If Philly had a motto, I think it would probably be something like: “Don’t be an asshole.” Be different, be strange, be queer, be yourself: just don’t be a dick.
I did not love Philly when I moved here. I saw it as a stopgap, maybe a way to get from here to there. I don’t see it that way anymore. I just finished school and got my first job and now I’m thinking about buying a house, about settling in. I feel comfortable here. Philly is the worn-in sweatpants of cities. It won’t win any glamour contests, but it can make you feel instantly at home.
I could go on awhile about the many things I love about this city - its old houses, its food, its diversity - but I want to get back to the fireworks. I walked around the neighborhood tonight and watched probably ten different people set them off, arching and sparkling over the low, flat rooftops. This is everybody’s party, and you’re all invited. That’s Philly, to me. Respect the struggle, celebrate everything. Make shit explode.