The “City of Brotherly Love,” a direct translation of its name from the Greek language, is one of the ten largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Philadelphia served as the nation’s first capital and cultural center before being replaced in these roles by Washington, D.C., and New York City, respectively. Since the Industrial Revolution, the city has prospered as an important port and manufacturing center. Today, it’s part of an economic corridor of large cities stretching down the East Coast from Boston to Washington, D.C.
“Philly” offers a full set of big-city amenities comparable to those of most major cities. In the late 17th century, William Penn laid out the city on a grid, one of the nation’s first. Today the modern downtown is adjacent to a large historic district, anchored by Independence Hall and the waterfront. The majority of the land between the historic district and the Schuylkill River to the west resembles a typical large U.S. city with a mix of old and new structures. Large Fairmount Park contains many of the area’s museums and historic buildings.
Across the Schuylkill in University Park, a college town within the city, are the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. With these two schools and nearby Temple University and Villanova, the area offers more than its share of quality higher education. Some of the city’s strong traditions, such as its major-league sports teams and Philly cheesesteaks, are nationally famous.
Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. South Philadelphia has a mainly immigrant, working-class population, while North Philadelphia and areas west of University Park are rough and somewhat rundown. Some of the best older suburbs lie along the old Pennsylvania Railroad “Main Line” running to the west. These have spacious, shady neighborhoods with historic homes situated around small-town cores and railroad stations. These suburbs line the tracks west into suburban towns like Paoli, Malvern and Exton. These towns and many nearby have considerable historic interest, attractive topography and excellent housing values- especially compared to other Northeastern cities. Some towns off of the line, like West Chester and areas south towards the Delaware border are very livable with considerable local and nearby employment, excellent schools and family amenities.
Some of Philly’s growth has also extended northwest to formerly placid areas like Valley Forge, with a mix of commercial and residential development resulting in some sprawl issues, but these areas are more attractive than comparable rapid-growth areas in other cities. To the north, the suburbs of Hatboro, Warminster, and Doylestown along former Reading Railroad lines offer good residential values as well. Transportation services, both within the metro area and between Philly and other places, are generally excellent; the Philadelphia International Airport is less crowded than most and served well by discount carriers.
The economy is diverse. Although not known for steel production like many of its Pennsylvania neighbors, the area is a center for several industries, most notably the chemical industry and financial services. Areas of New Jersey across the Susquehanna, particularly Camden, are mostly industrial. While employment has been fairly steady, future job-growth projections are low. Violent crime is high and summers can be uncomfortably warm and humid. However, the Cost of Living Index is low by regional standards, especially for an East Coast city. The outstanding cultural amenities, cost of living, and central East Coast location make Philly attractive and a good value overall,.
The downtown area is in a broad, flat valley. Rolling, hilly countryside stretches to the north and west. The Appalachian Mountains to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east moderate the otherwise continental climate. Weather is variable and extreme temperatures seldom last for more than 3 or 4 days. In summer, high humidity can add discomfort to seasonably warm temperatures, while stagnant maritime air can engulf the area. Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, with maximum amounts in late summer as thunderstorms. Snowfall is more abundant in the northern suburbs, while precipitation may arrive as rain rather than snow within the city. Coastal storms produce heavy snowfalls every few years.