May 27, 2019
William Penn statue in PhiladelphiaSource: Philly in April | Penelope Peru Photograph P³
Despite being at the epicenter of American history and bearing home to some of the most beautiful artwork in the country, the culture of Philadelphia remains the best kept secret in Pennsylvania – if not the entire nation.
A Bit of Context…
Quaker and English nobleman William Penn arrived in Philadelphia in 1682, according to HISTORY. Within years, his colonies thrived and would later attract the likes of Benjamin Franklin, among other founding fathers.
Not only were Philadelphians the first to hear the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the United States Constitution was also written in no other than the city of brotherly love in 1787.
After the revolutionary war, Philadelphia was hailed as the first capital of the United States in 1790. The city’s population outnumbered any other city during the dawn of America as we know it today, with 44,096 residents.
Now, nearly 230 years later, Philadelphia is home to over 1.5 million, as reported by the United States Census Bureau.
While we may be known for our cheesesteaks and cream cheese, there’s more to Philadelphia than meets the eye. It is a city of passion, driven by it’s overwhelming sense of community.
Philly embodies many cultures, paid homage to in over 3,600 murals, according to Visit Philadelphia.
“I choose to live [in Philadelphia] because it’s got the best contemporary mural scene in the world,” said Meg Saligman, a local muralist whose work has been featured throughout the city during her 30 years of experience.
Craving a taste of the city’s culture ourselves, we reached out to locals to learn more about Philadelphia through their firsthand accounts.
- Lauren – a local photographer.
- Camille Mola – a local blogger.
- Nicolette – a local fitness model and Pre-Med student.
- Meg Saligman – a local muralist.
How long have you been living in or around the city of Philadelphia?
Lauren: “I’ll begin my seventh year in Philadelphia this October, but I’ve lived within an hour of the city my whole life.”
Mola: “I’ve been living in Philly for about two years now, but I grew up right outside of the city in Delaware County.”
Nicolette: “I have lived around the city of Philadelphia my whole life.”
Saligman: “30 years.”
Why do you choose to live in or near Philadelphia?
Lauren: “I’m originally from Reading, which rolls itself up by 6 o’clock at night. Nothing goes on.
Here in the city, there are limitless things to do. If you want to go out to the bars, go eat, or walk around town and hang in a park, there’s nothing you can’t do down here in Philly.”
Mola: “After college, I had definitely thought about moving away at some point. Exploring a different city is still something I think about, but personally, I love the lifestyle I’ve created here within my own community, and within the restaurants and music venues I like to go to.
I just feel like Philly is so accessible. There’s something for everyone here. Even though it’s not the biggest city, you still get that big city feel without it being too overwhelming.”
Nicolette: “I choose to live near the city because of school. I am currently enrolled in a Pre-Med track as a Physician’s Assistant with a minor in nutrition.
I go to Immaculata University, which is really close to my house. The end goal is to finish my graduate’s degree at Jefferson University, which is in Philadelphia.
I do eventually want to go abroad and help people in more rural areas, but I want to start at CHOP in Philadelphia and help children first.”
Saligman: “I love Philly; I’m a Philadelphia girl at heart.
I choose to live here because it’s got the best contemporary mural scene in the world. I love that it’s a city-city. It’s northeastern, so there’s the grit and realness to that. I love the individual neighborhoods.
The size of Philadelphia is also something that keeps me entertained, but I feel I can still navigate with relative ease. Yet, I haven’t exhausted it’s offerings. I am never unable to find a surprise, something I haven’t seen or done before yet.
I will say I grew up in a very small town, Olean, NY, before going to school in New York City. I couldn’t get over the concept of anonymity because everybody knew me where I came from.
Now that I’ve lived in Philly for 30 years, it’s hard to not know somebody while walking down the street. I like the anonymity [in New York City], so I have mixed feelings about the small town feel of [Philadelphia].”
When you think “Philly,” what are the first three words that come to mind?
Super Pretzel mascot in Love ParkSource: Philly in April | Penelope Peru Photography P³
Lauren: “Neighborhood, fun, relaxed.”
Mola: “Culture, accessibility, gritty (and not just because of Gritty the mascot).”
Nicolette: “Cheesesteaks, concerts, night-life.”
Saligman: “Gritty, passionate, pain-in-the-ass.”
What is your favorite part of Philadelphia?
The Parkway in PhiladelphiaSource: Philly in April | Penelope Peru Photography P³
Lauren: “The Parkway. There’s so much you can do and so much to look at.
We have the biggest collection of Rodin pieces outside of Paris. Not enough people go to see that.
We also have the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the National Constitution Center.
I’m not even Catholic, but the [Cathedral] Basilica [of Saints Peter and Paul] is just a gorgeous building to go inside and look at.
The Parkway’s just an awesome part of town.”
Cross statue in PhiladelphiaSource: Philly in April | Penelope Peru Photography P³
Mola: “I really do love the East Passyunk area. I think it’s really cute and quaint. Plus, it gives you that old school Italian feel.
My family is Italian, and in a weird way, East Passyunk reminds me of my family because it’s an area we would all love. There are so many great restaurants and local businesses that you don’t really see everywhere else in Philly.”
Nicolette: “My favorite part of Philadelphia are all the museums we have. I love going to The Franklin Institute, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and my little brother goes to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), which has an absolutely incredible museum. The students’ artwork at PAFA is amazing. All of the upcoming artists are so talented.”
Saligman: “The people.”
Where is your favorite place to catch a meal at in Philadelphia?
Lauren: “Citizens Bank Park, because the Questlove cheesesteak is one of the greatest things I’ve ever eaten.”
Mola: “I have two favorite places. Harp and Crown is my favorite for celebrating with a nice brunch or meal.
Pro tip: Harp and Crown has a $28 bottomless brunch buffet on weekends, which is the best buffet you can get in the city.
On the flipside, I love Bottle Bar East in Fishtown. The food there is so good and their beer selection is incredible. If you are just looking for something casual with a great meal and a nice drink, Bottle Bar East is your place to go.”
Nicolette: “I went to Ruth Chris with my family for my birthday and that was awesome. They have really good lobster mac and cheese.
When I’m not prepping for a competition, I’ll have steak or I’ll go to Pod, which is a really cool, modernized sushi bar. You can sit in these lit up, circular rooms. I love it there. Their sushi is top of the line. Probably one of my go-to places.”
Are there any aspects of Philly culture that you feel are under appreciated?
The Holocaust statue in PhiladelphiaSource: Philly in April | Penelope Peru Photography P³
Lauren: “Philly itself is under appreciated. Everyone wants to look at New York or Chicago, but Philly has everything that every other city has without gouging you $19 for a martini here like you would in New York. You also won’t have to pay $3,000 a month to live somewhere decent, like you would in Chicago or Washington D.C.”
Mola: “The whole art and culture scene here. Our museums and galleries are excellent.
Maybe people here in the city don’t realize it, but the music scene in Philly is wonderful. There are so many amazing music schools with great, young talent, and there are so many venues to catch a live show at.
Plus, there are some cool small businesses that support local artists, and I think that’s something totally undervalued here.”
Nicolette: “Definitely the history that comes from the city. Philadelphia is such a big part of it, and I feel like the historical side is overlooked a lot.
There are so many founders who built this country up from Philadelphia – I mean, that was our [nation’s] capital for awhile. It’s such a historical place and I don’t think the younger generation appreciates it as much.
We just need to educate the youth who are going on these field trips for school and make it more interesting for them, so the information is related in a way that they can grasp it.
We can’t grasp the whole picture of Philadelphia back in colonial times. We weren’t there, we don’t know what it’s like. If we could explain it better and be put in that situation, we could further comprehend it.”
Saligman: “I think the art and cultural scene can be underutilized. In that way, they’re under appreciated. Because there’s so much that’s offered here, we can get a little spoiled by opportunity and access.
One of the good things about Philly is how passionate the people are. We’re appreciators. We’re hardcore sports fans. When we do murals, we do ’em bigger, better – there are 4,000 of them.
I truly believe something that distinguishes Philly is its ability to celebrate and appreciate. We tend to be all in.”
In your time living in Philadelphia, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed or had to deal with first hand?
Lauren: “I don’t want to say I’ve noticed more of them, but there seems to be more homeless people now. I think that’s because the city cleared out the encampments up in Kenzington without any clear plan of where those people should go, so everybody scattered throughout the city.
I think that is one of the biggest issues the city faces. Homeless people are more than just looking for a handout; they’re people who are struggling.
You can’t just build another apartment building that costs $1,600 for a studio and expect them to live there, because they don’t have jobs or anything like that. How are they going to afford to live in all of these highrises?
Everybody that’s coming in and rehabbing a house, they want to make the most money they can in the least amount of time. They’re pricing it out of what anyone in the neighborhood can afford.
I’d love to see more rent control down here.
I’m living with three guys. I know maybe one or two of us could have a place on our own, but there are plenty of instances throughout this whole city where people are living together because they can’t afford to live on their own in a decent, safe area.”
Mola: “Right now, Philly is having a moment. Maybe part of it is the Super Bowl win or the attention of Gritty, but I feel like people are paying more notice to Philly – whether it’s for better or for worse.
Maybe people will start to appreciate Philadelphia more, because it’s a really cool city. Maybe it’s not what people had originally thought it was.”
Nicolette: “Over the course of my 23 years, I’ve noticed the drug epidemic has gotten absolutely out of control with opiates and stuff like that. I’ve witnessed that firsthand with a loved one.
Before they passed away, their doctor had said if medical marijuana were legal at the time, he would’ve replaced his pills with marijuana for pain management.”
Saligman: “There has been physical growth throughout Center City. I’m sometimes dismayed at the lack of growth as far as desegregating the people. It’s still a city of neighborhoods, divided by socioeconomic and ethnic lines.
Physically, Center City has definitely expanded. Look, there are four skyscrapers now that weren’t there before.
I miss the ease of navigation that has gone in doing business in Center City. There seems to be more rules now. There’s zoning, licenses, rules, and so on. I think the more it develops, there’s less freedom there is.”
Every city has its dark side, but is there a dark side to living in Philly that is particularly present in our city opposed to others?
Lauren: “Not that I can think of. I know ever since the mayor and Drug Administration decided to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the whole city smells like pot – and there are so many homeless people, the whole city smells like pee.
That’s a downside, but I think it’s easily fixable. Even if it’s just having accessible public bathrooms for the people who are homeless to use late at night.
Or to say to people, ‘Hey, maybe you don’t really need to smoke a joint walking down the street on a Sunday afternoon.’ When I grew up, pot smoking was something you did if someone’s parents were away and they were home alone. There was a tiny little bit of shame to it.
Honestly, I still love this town more than I could even say. I’ve had some of the darkest times of my life here, but there was nothing the city did to me. The city, in a way, saved me. I could still experience Philly and be around people.
This has been the greatest six and a half years of my life. This feels more like home than any place I had lived growing up.”
Mola: “The gentrification of Philly. The city is getting more recognition.
Amazon was looking to set up here, which would have drastically changed Philly. More big corporations might be interested in coming to the city to create new jobs, but it would displace a lot of people.
There’s also this fear that [commercialization] could take the charm away from the neighborhoods that make Philly so… Philly, for lack of a better word.
People love this city for a reason; not because it’s just another New York. It’s Philly, it’s own city.”
Nicolette: “Being a female, you definitely have to be careful. You can’t walk alone in the city at night – that is a big no bueno.
Even on the Temple campus, I’ve had a couple friends get robbed. I feel like all cities have that, but I was in New York recently, and the people there are completely different.
Every city has its dark side, but some more than others. It might also be more apparent because I live near Philly, as well, where New York City is more of a tourist attraction.”
Saligman: “As I say Philly is a passionate city, with the high-highs come the low-lows.
Philly has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. We have blocks and blocks of urban wasteland that would scare almost any city in the country.
We’re the city of brotherly love, but we also tolerate a whole lot of our brothers and sisters being in marginalized positions where it’s hard to meet daily sustenance needs, and that’s really dark. This is all within city limits.
It’s not a story of drama. There are neighborhoods in the city where mothers send their children – especially their sons – to school or work and worry whether they will come home.
That happens within five miles of where I’m sitting right now.”
What is the future of Philadelphia? Where do you think the city will be in 10 years from now?
LOVE Statue in Love ParkSource: Philly in April | Penelope Peru Photography P³
Lauren: “It’s going to be bigger because people keep realizing everything Philly has to offer.
Just since I’ve been here, the Pope, Obama, and Hillary Clinton have visited. These are major things. We also had the NFL draft, Super Bowl parade, and so on.
More people are giving Philly a shot, and I think it’s going to keep growing like that. There’s never a shortage of fun activities, sightseeing, and experiences.
Philly has been standing up for people for years before other cities realized they needed to.”
Mola: “It could really change. With bigger corporations coming in, it could have a different feel.
Sometimes I’ll meet people who haven’t been to Philadelphia for four or five years and they’ll say it’s changed so much.
I think it’s going to continue changing. I also think that there could be more opportunities in Philly. Whether it’s festivals, conventions, or bigger events, people might consider hosting them in Philadelphia.
On the positive side of things, the city could keep getting recognition.”
Nicolette: “I think it’ll evolve. There’s a lot of construction going on right now, and I feel like in the next 10 years it’s going to be more up and coming.
I feel like people are going to try to preserve the city, all the historical landmarks, and just start taking better care of Philly.
With our sports teams doing so well, hopefully it’ll bring more revenue into our city so we can keep building up and doing better.”
Saligman: “I think the future of Philadelphia is going to be a microcosm of the macrocosm of our country and world. In that way, it’s hard to predict the future.
I would say Philadelphia will keep growing and expanding. Y’know, there’s a lot of good here.
I see good, good things in Philly’s future – and five Super Bowl wins. That’s my prediction.”
Do you have any final thoughts or additional comments to share about the city of Philadelphia?
The Free Library of PhiladelphiaSource: Philly in April | Penelope Peru Photography P³
Lauren: “I hope that anyone who isn’t already in Philly gives it a shot. It will change their life.”
Mola: “I really love Philly. For me and many of my friends, it has provided a lot of opportunities that maybe we couldn’t get in other cities. I think the blogging community is a prime example.
There’s room for everybody. You can meet some really amazing people and make some great connections. The people are the best part of Philly.”
Nicolette: “If anybody hasn’t really been in the city, you should definitely check out the magical garden, or Harbor Park with all the hammocks open.
Just take a day to yourself to explore. There’s nothing better than seeing new places in the city that are off the beaten path.
Try something new! Get out of your comfort zone a little bit. Explore the city without a set plan, just wing it. Adventure and enjoy the day outside of where you’re from so you can really soak up all the history!”
Saligman: “Like I said, I’m a Philly girl. It’s a wonderful place to live and even better place to be a muralist.”
Saligman was also able to add a little bonus culture to our discussion based upon her experiences as a muralist in Philadelphia.
What inspired you to become a muralist?
Saligman: “I always loved painting large, I love people, and I love being outside. When Philadelphia had the Anti-Graffiti Network, there was an opportunity for me to test all three of those passions out at once and I loved it.”
What and where was the first mural you ever painted?
Saligman: “I painted a mural in the old library restaurant while I was in high school [in Olean, NY], and it got painted over in three days because the architect hated it. It was horrible.
[The mural] was a collage of Olean’s history. It wasn’t a good mural – maybe good for a high school artist.”
What and where was the most complex mural you’ve painted so far?
Saligman: “There are many different varieties of complex.
I’d have to say ‘The Evolving Face of Nursing,’ because there’s a light show that coordinates with the paint. That was technically complex.
‘The Evolving Face of Nursing’ is located at Broad and Vine St.”
On average, how long does it take you to paint a mural?
Saligman: “It can take anywhere from two months to two years.”
What do you hope the people of Philadelphia take from your work?
Saligman: “[To feel] anyway they want. I put my work out there to truly leave it to and for the community. If the community wants to paint over it, they are welcome to. I actually design them to be ambiguous, sometimes, so people can take different things from it.
I love it simply being an intervention in people’s daily lives.”
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