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A “Greene Country Towne”

The Philadelphia skyline from a hotel window (Photograph by author)

Some time ago, I moved to Philadelphia after college. I enjoyed several formative years in the City of Brotherly Love. I met my wife there. Philadelphia allowed me to experience the joys (and frustrations) of urban living. Its walkable and compact downtown (locally known as Center City) and adjacent neighborhoods allowed one to savor America’s colonial past in the Independence Mall area and then glide into a trendy rock bar. For a young man coming from a rural pocket of New York State, every day seemed to promise a new surprise.

Philadelphia holds a special place in my memory and imagination, yet I’ve rarely visited it over the past decade or so. Earlier this summer, my wife and I decided to change that and stayed in William Penn’s “greene country towne” for a long weekend. Our trip was equal part nostalgia and discovery. We visited favorite haunts, such as a tavern in my wife’s old neighborhood, and we delighted in spots new to us, including the Barnes Foundation.

Although the Philadelphia of today is obviously different from that of our past, we found comfort in how much seemed unchanged or, at the very least, resembled our shared memories. Walnut Street was busy with shoppers on a Saturday afternoon. Elfreth’s Alley in Olde City evoked a genteel eighteenth century. Monk’s Cafe served obscure draft beers. Reading Terminal Market attracted the culinary curious.

Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier, Washington Square, Philadelphia (Photograph by author)

Admittedly, this Philadelphia–Center City, to be exact–represents a mere fraction of a metropolis beset by the depressingly real problems of drugs, poverty, and homelessness. Nevertheless, in a post-COVID urban world of half-empty office buildings maligned by conservative media as a post-apocalyptic hellscape, a vibrant downtown busy with visitors and residents augurs well for the health of a city and its long-term potential as a desirable place to work and live. Given its challenges and those overall facing the country, it was heartening to experience a thriving Center City Philadelphia.

Venturing down memory lane can be a fraught and risky journey. One might find a favorite place to be rundown, decrepit, or simply gone. Suddenly, a beloved memory becomes tarnished. The past is just that: vanished and irretrievable. Yet, if we’re lucky, we occasionally might catch a glimpse of it and find ourselves rejuvenated. Re-enchanted, even. Wandering through the City of Brotherly Love, I felt just that. I could not have left Philadelphia more grateful.

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