Hello! We are a homeschooling family of four contemplating a move from Portland to Philadelphia in January. Anyone living in Philadephia who would be willing to talk to me about neighborhoods, homeschooling, parks, other concerns about living with young kids in Center City? What's the Philly kiddo scene like?
Read the newspapers ,The Inquirer, or go to phillynews.com or org (don't remember)
I was a hs teacher in Phila for 30 years. There are lovely parts of center city, but Phila is dangerous place. There is a lot of diversity here-Russian immigrants, hispanic people,Asian, Afro-American. Each has their own gangs, that kill each other or fight!!! In CC(center City) there are drive by shootings, INTO HOUSES!!!, and when a kid on the street robs your iphone he also kills
If you have an automobile accident, the police will not come to make a report, it's not important enough! CC is a beautiful place in certain areas, but given the choice I would go elsewhere, especially with children.
Also, the streets are dirty., School District is going broke AND sales tax is 8% and you have to pay extra for trash collection. Oh, did I mention that buildings are falling down??? (check the news)
I do not live in the City. I live in a surrounding suburb, Willow Grove. Very nice.
Please think long and hard before bringing your family to this city. I wish you very good luck. gail demarco
I have a 5 yr old and have lived here, car-free, for 12 yrs. Its a wonderful area to raise kids, and the biggest issue that drives families away is the public schools, which is not an issue for you. Yes, Philadelphia is a big city with tough areas, but I've never had any safety issues. There are lots of great areas for families, and it depends on your budget. We lived in Queen Village for a long time, but now own a house in Passyunk Sq (traditionally South Philly, but included in the Center City District study area from a demographic point of view). This area is more affordable for us, and filled with young families and old-timers and lively parks. I have preferred neighborhoods in town mostly based on my biases of playgrounds, markets, and restaurants (I like Washington Sq West, but can't afford it), but I also have friends that happily live in quieter areas (Southwest Center City, for example). There are active homeschooling groups, but I don't have any personal connections there but I occasionally cross paths with groups at our neighborhood park. I think West Philly has some well-established homeschooling groups too, and is very livable.
If you have specific neighborhoods in mind, I'm sure folks will chime in. I have a very friendly kid, and we can show up at any park at any time of the day and find kids to play with. We have favorite destinations all over Center City (easily strollable, but also frequently on Septa busses, subway, regional rail) and no matter where you land, you'll find family-friendly amenities.
Many families love the Art Museum area, aka Fairmount. We have some good friends there that will sing its praises (and who will be better infomed of the hyperlocal resouces). But its not a good fit for our family (although it would make commuting easier to school for us. . .). Pros (IMO): proximity to Fairmount Park, Art Museum (right now with excellent kids exhibits), Whole Foods, parkway attractions like Franklin Institute, main branch of Free Library. Generally very nice housing stock. The dining scene is only okay compared to rest of city. At least one of the nieghborhood parks has had a complete overhaul recently. Cons (again, only my opinion!): the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is a real mental divide. The city is trying to "activate" this area with more programming, with some great results (Sister Cities Park and The Oval), but the neighborhood is generally separated from the rest of the downtown. Many of the other neighborhoods flow into one another with less dramatic streets separating them. A couple of weeks ago I brought my son to the main branch of the Free Library and I was "surprised" by how close it was. It just "feels" so much further away because its on the other side of the Parkway, and when I spoke to some friends about this, they all admitted to rarely crossing for the same reason. I can stroll for a couple miles from my South Philadelphia neighborhood to Old City, for example, and don't need to cross any big roads and can just meander. On the other hand, to walk to the Art Museum area, I need to visualize where I'm going beforehand, and that amount of planning takes some of the pleasure of the city out of it for me--and may be a bigger reflection of my personality than the quality of the destination. I'm a flaneur, by nature.
Philly has a wonderful, warm, active homeschooling scene. I participated in a group in my hood when we lived there (we've since relocated to VT). We lived in Pennsport/Queen Village, and found it to be very family-friendly: walkable, plenty of parks and coffee shops, some nice parenting/playgroups, etc. It's easy to get to the museums on the other side of town by car or bus. Good luck!
You may not want to read what I have to say (because I'm not in CC) but I am homeschooling in PA, which the PA Home Education Law covers Philadelphia, w/ one small stipulation that I don't know because I don't live there. If you haven't been to askpauline.com yet, I'd highly recommend you visit this site & read the law at least a handful of times before you commit to moving to PA. We have one of the most cumbersome, restrictive laws in the nation, unfortunately. I believe that since Philadelphia is the largest district, they aren't as difficult to deal w/ as some other districts w/ the resources to annoy home educators, but they still request things outside the scope of the law.
Feel free to PM if you'd like more info. On the askpauline site, there will be links to groups for homeschooling across the state; there's likely ones strictly for Philly there. Talking to some home educators may be helpful.
Best wishes on your decision!
In addition to Ask Pauline (a site with a great reputation), if you are more at the unschooling end of the spectrum, I know some folks involved with Open Connections. http://www.openconnections.org/ It is a hike from the city, and likely not an option for you without a car, but a source worth investigating. There is also the Philadelphia Free School http://www.phillyfreeschool.org/ and the Philadelphia Classical School opens this fall--a neighbor homeschooled her children and now is opening a formal school. The Art Museum has programs for homeschoolers (or has in the past at least) and I know I've seen programs at other institutions for homeschoolers, but can't recall more specifically now.
Your walkability questions: yes, you can absolutely cross the Parkway on foot; its just trickier than the simple gridded streets of the rest of the city. If you live away from the museum, it is easily accessible by bus. I take the 38 to the backdoor. There are busses to the zoo, but for the little ones, riding the 15 trolley is far more exciting. I take the Broad St subway and transfer to the trolley. From my neighborhood, its actually quicker to take transit rather than drive due to traffic and parking. The trolley drops you off at the front door.
Mt Airy: Fairmount is the most convenient neighborhood in Center City to NW Philly. My son will start school in that neighborhood in the fall. If you live right by a regional rail station (Suburban Station or Market East), taking the train is convenient. For us, though, after experimenting with a number of different bus and train routes, have decided that we'll need a car to drive him to school--our best run was by bus and that took an hour.
You should definitely visit Fairmount, but also consider Bella Vista/Queen Village, and the East Passyunk area (all have markets, libraries, parks, etc). Your budget will likely drive where you land. One real estate factor here is elementary school catchment. There are several highly-sought after public schools that significantly drive up real estate prices. In our case, we decided to buy a house in a decent, but less "hot" catchment, and without the crazy mark-up, so that we can use the "savings" towards an independent school. There are a million ways to balance the equation, but I just want to make you aware of why house prices can jump dramatically in just a block or two.
I do understand about the school catchment - we have the same situation here although also many charter schools so lots of folks send their kids out of their neighborhoods for school.
We are looking to rent a place in Philly, not buy, at least at first. Our budget is around
Again, thanks for taking the time to answer this nervous mamas questions:-)
In addition to Open Connections, there is also a program called Talking Stick Learning Center (http://talkingsticklearningcenter.org/). They have moved into Philadelphia to the Awbry Arboretum. I would LOVE for my children to participate in this, I just can't swing the cost. I know a few people who participate & they & their children love it. That might be another option for you. But, I have no clue if it's possible to get there on public transportation from CC.
Yes, the home ed law is daunting but it's doable. I am very friendly w/ a woman who homeschools her 4 children in PHilly. I think being in Philly makes it a bit easier, as I said but the law is the law in PA.
I hope this information is of use to you! Best wishes w/ it all!!!
While I'm not a mom just yet (expecting my first), I do live in Mt. Airy and wanted to chime in on what a wonderful neighborhood it is. I see lots of young families all throughout the 'hood and know that there are abundant resources for kids and parents alike. I know Center City is more on your radar, but definitely spend some time up in Mt. Airy if you get a chance during your visit. I live 2 blocks from a grocery store and all of the amenities on Germantown Ave. (restaurants, library, gym, etc.) and live 4-5 blocks from the train, which takes me into Center City in 20 minutes, plus there are two bus lines a stone's throw from our house. We also have lots of parks and green space. Mt. Airy is a true community, and just a wonderful place to live. Good luck with everything!
Thanks for everyone's replies. The rental agent we are working with is sending us a lot of homes in the Old City neighborhood. As far as Center City goes, what do folks think of that area? I am an avid runner and am interested in whether running around Penn's landing is a (reasonably) safe bet? Any opinions on the Old City neighborhood? Looks a bit more affordable than some of the others....
Mody - I've been checking out Mt. Airy too, as you recommended. It looks really lovely and I know there is a homeschool co-op there for my daughter and some other children's activities as well. And, oh my! You certainly can get more house for your money as compared to Central City. My big concern would be feeling isolated there from the rest of the city as I am car free. It looks like there is a lot going on on Germantown rd but is that about it for stores/restaraunts, ect?
What kind of train is it that brings you into the city? Is it like a subway? Or a light rail? Do they come fairly often? Thanks! This is such a hard decision to make from so far away. I'm looking forward to visiting!
The train from Mt. Airy into Center City is part of the "Regional Rail", a commuter rail system. You can check it out on www.septa.org There are two different lines that come up into Mt. Airy, the Chestnut Hill West and the Chestnut Hill East. I live about 4-5 blocks from both lines, so I have my choice as to which one to take. They both go into town, just run on different schedules. During rush hours, the trains run every 30 minutes, and roughly every hour otherwise.
And yes, you really can get a bigger bang for your buck up here, and often with a yard and/or a driveway. As for your running, we have great trails in Wissahickon Valley Park.
About potentially feeling isolated, I think a lot of it will come down to your frame of reference and what you're accustomed to in your day-to-day. There are two general commercial areas here: 1) Germantown Ave., and 2) the intersection of Greene St. and Carpenter Lane. Germantown Ave. is where you'll find the grocery store, the library, Mt. Airy Playground, shops, restaurants, a coffee shop, a theater, a gym, a local bank, a hair salon, dry cleaners, a liquor store, a diner, etc. The intersection of Greene and Carpenter is where you'll find Weaver's Way (the co-op), a bookstore, another coffee shop, a cool salvage store, a yoga studio (i think), an elementary school, and maybe a few other places. And then there's random restaurants and stores scattered throughout the 'hood. If you walk up Germantown Ave (or catch the 23 bus) to Chestnut Hill, there's even more stores, parks, things to do and see.
I work in town (center city) and only use my car on the weekends for grocery shopping and Target runs, but otherwise everything I need is here. I'm sure they have something similar in Portland but we have Philly Car Share or ZipCar if you need to "rent" a car on an hourly basis. It's affordable and wildly convenient, should you need a car.
Let me know if I can answer any other questions, I'm happy to help!
PS. Old City is a great neighborhood, although I do not typically think of it as affordable, but then again I've never shopped for housing there. It's a desirable area with lots of bars, restaurants, history, art galleries, shops, and close to the subway and the waterfront. Can definitely be a nightlife hotspot among the younger crowd. Running in that area and Penn's Landing would be fine.
Old City is a nice area, but I don't think its ideal for families (but still much better than many areas of the city!). Pros, from my point of view: Franklin Sq, free national park stuff, easy access to open space, 2 subway stops. Cons: no market (for years its been a noted problem), tons of tourists, noisy weekend nights (some nice restaurants, others with little respect for neighbors), and much of the housing doesn't have gas for cooking, is poorly insulated, and is expensive to heat/cool--not unusual for conversions of formerly industrial spaces, but something to consider if the rents are "affordable". Also, I've had friends live in apts there, and getting strollers in/out there is a challenge! I lived in Queen Village for many years and I ran along Front Street, Columbus Blvd, and Penns Landing without any problems. If running is a priority, the Schuylkil River Trail is really great.
I think you said your budget is $2000/max. You should be more than fine in many great neighborhoods. My mortgage for a 3 bedroom row house in Passyunk Sq is $1000. So add a few bucks for maintenance and you'll get a picture of what is a reasonable rent.
Have you seen Philadelphia Speaks? There is a Relocating section with lots of neighborhood info. Philly can change drastically block to block, and folks on PS can be painfully blunt, but perhaps skimming the archives there to see recommendations could be worthwhile. http://www.philadelphiaspeaks.com/forum/relocation-moving-philadelphia/
We just moved out of the city but the neighborhood we left was wonderful and very family friendly, walkable, full of great restaurants and shops. We were in passyunk square, its close to the subway and is a bit far but still walkable to center city. There is even a wonderful listerv for families that is a great resource for parents in that area. Hope you're finding what you're looking for in philadelphia its a great city especially if you don't need the schools. There are lots of home schoolers and I would think soon to be many more.
My husband and I moved to cc about a year ago and I can totally understand where you are coming from. I actually had never lived in Philadelphia before & I have to say that reading local news prior to moving here didn't really make the city any justice. Philadelphia is a big city & just like anywhere else, there will be unfortunate situations. However; after being here for a year, I can say that this city truly offers a little bit of everything. We bought a little row-house in Rittenhouse (thanks to the low house market a year ago) we liked this area because it's petty central to some of the places you mentioned ( museum, restaurants, grocery stores, family friendly parks) as a matter of fact, there is a weekly farmers market that goes on on Rittenhouse park every Saturday. The park tends to attract a pretty descent group of moms, all seem friendly. There's another park nearby called filter square that also attracts several local parents & it appears to be very active in terms of organizing events.
I completely agree with klk, she did a great job at describing some of the neighborhoods. I absolutely like her neighborhood & we almost bought something there but we decided not to, commute to work wise. I work at a local hospital that I get to walk to from home.
I also like the fair mount area but I really can't consider it to be your typical walking distance. It seems to us that our trips there tend to be planned as you do have to cross "major" roads to get there. I like cc neighborhoods because really, they pretty much overlap each other & so many of them have wonderful things to offer. Passyunk is by far (IMO) a vibrant, progressive & stable neighborhood. We tend to go there pretty regularly ( walking distance to Rittenhouse by the way) because they have a great selection of restaurants & events. I would suggest you check their Facebook page.
We don't have children yet, currently trying to conceive & definitely feel that cc has a tremendous amount of activities for parents. Our block tends to have "block parties" the neighbors & kids come together to celebrate ( spring, fall, or a holiday) it's pretty awesome & truly reminds us that we made the right decision to move here. Like I said, the city presents issues but I feel that it is moving in such positive direction. I hope this information is a bit helpful, let me know if you have any questions.