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Old 03-12-2007, 08:26 AM
 
184 posts, read 498,179 times
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We went up to the Philly suburbs for the weekend and I thought I'd return and report in case my impressions help anyone else. It was a worthwhile visit. Things look different than you imagine they will.

To recap, we live in the DC area now and are considering a job offer in Philadelphia. We were looking for a family-friendly, walkable town with good schools close to the city. Overall we were a little surprised by what we found.

I want to emphasize that we were only there for one rushed weekend so if I'm totally misrepresenting a place, I hope someone will correct the record. Also, it was a cold weekend so we didn't see many people out walking and there were no leaves on the trees, it was windy, and honestly a little bleak. So accounting for all of that, these were our impressions.

Media: We really liked Media. It wasn't on the top of our list but we were pleasantly surprised. It has a nice, good-sized town center. The town is laid out on a grid pattern. It isn't very fancy but is quaint and has charm. There are lots of old buildings with distinctive styles. There is a great big Trader Joe's where we stopped. People seemed friendly -- we struck up conversations without even trying. The train station in Media would be hard to walk to -- it's down a woodsy hill off a narrow road. There is some kind of trolley through town which we didn't see. It's a small town but has a Starbucks, a Quizno's, a Wendy's, as well as only-in-Media type stuff. I could easily see a family being happy here. It reminded me a little bit of Medford, N.J., where I used to live. That's probably a bad comparison. It isn't as colonial as Medford, and it's bigger I think, but it has a cute town feel and the streets of town are mostly flat rather than hilly.

Inner Main Line (Rosemont, Bryn Mawr, Haverford): This is where we thought we would totally fall in love, but it didn't happen. Rt 30 (Lancaster Ave?) the main road which these towns are right along, was stop-and-start congested even on a weekend. It reminded me of Rockville Pike. There were great grand old houses just off the strip but the commercial strip along Lancaster Ave was not what I'd call charming or even town-like -- it was more a long strip mall. Maybe I'm being a little unfair -- there was a muffin shop, an ice cream shop, some cute things -- but it didn't have a cute overall look. We stopped at the Barnes & Noble in Bryn Mawr. It was very tight and congested -- tight parking lot, small inside. We live in an urban area now, but it still seemed small to me. Lots of Mini Coopers driving around. People seemed brusque. We drove by some houses for sale. It was interesting to see which backed up to railroad tracks (several!) and were on busy streets (many!). I did not see any houses in what I'd consider a real neighborhood or evidence of kids and kidlife-- Lancaster and Montgomery Aves are busy streets that cut through and chopped up the towns.

Wayne: Wayne has a real downtown. It has a lot of little shops and seemed to be laid out like a cross. I think there's a farmer's market in the summer (?). It reminded me of West Hartford, CT -- a similar kind of pretty, developed downtown with restaurants and shops. It seemed like a lot of the shops were ones that we wouldn't use too often (expensive gift shops and boutiques) but it had an appealing look. There was an artisanal bakery, toy store, that kind of thing. The sidwalks are narrow. They are normal city sidewalks, not the extra-wide brick sidewalks you find in places like Bethesda, MD so there aren't sidewalk cafes or anything like that. I saw one stroller and a pack of teenage girls walking around, looking very affluent (fancy purses, etc). Everybody we saw in Wayne (and all of the places here) was white. This is sort of surprising if you come from an area like DC. There must be people of other ethnicities around (???) but we didn't see them. Just down the road a little bit from Wayne, in St. David's, were some big-box stores, looking very discreet and attractively built. There's the nicest, best-organized T.J. Maxx I've ever seen, a computer store, a Right Start with kids' stuff, etc. We continued west. There's a Whole Foods just west of Wayne in Devon. Overall that whole area was more to my liking than Haverford/Bryn Mawr, but I was worried about driving congested Rt. 30 to get anywhere. It seemed unlikely we'd be able to get a house walking distance to downtown. Just north of Wayne's center was a big neighborhood of large Tudor (?) or gothic (?) houses. Really different looking, like Sleepy Hollow. I guess it's impressive but I found them totally creepy. NMS.

Swarthmore: Swarthmore has a small town center with a library, a deli, a music store, a food co-op, the train station, and perhaps a few other things. It's quite small. Surrounding the town center are the most enormous old houses I'd ever seen. A lot of them are somewhat ramshackle, many are pretty good shape, but they are far too big for us. There were also smaller houses further from town. I saw basketball nets on cul de sacs, a father and son on bikes, and totally felt like kids were around. There was a mall (Springfield) nearby. It's sort of an OK/losing-momentum mall, Disney Store, Gap, etc., missing one anchor store, no food court, but would be fine to take little kids on a rainy day.

Wallingford: Wallingford met almost none of our criteria but it was probably our favorite. It's the other side of 476 from Swarthmore. It is hilly and wooded and felt like a remote little English village (also like Chadds Ford, if you've ever been there). The houses are mostly older, built of stone and white-painted clapboard, and set in the hillside. They are more the size we are looking for -- 4 bedrooms, maybe 5, spacious but not enormous. Some people have creeks in their yard. It's really a village, not a town: there is a library, Wawa, cute train station, school, and that's pretty much it. However it's a short (five minute?) drive to Media. The downside of Wallingford and Swarthmore is that property taxes are very high and that is a deterrent for us. On the flip side, schools are good (as they are in all these places).

So that's where we are. When we returned home, we started to think Wallingford was probably too remote for us, and now we're thinking of doing another trip to look at Center City, Chestnut Hill, Jenkintown, and other places to the north.

Hope this helps somebody!
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Old 03-12-2007, 09:57 AM
 
Location: Villanova Pa.
3,955 posts, read 8,487,753 times
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Nice accurate breakdown.

The general area has a much nicer vibe once the warmer weather/blooming trees get here. It is a little gloomy around here in the winter months.

Chestnut Hill might be the best "smalltown feel" neighborhood of this region. If you make it back to the Jenkintown area check out the Bryn Athyn Cathedral.
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Old 03-12-2007, 11:56 AM
 
Location: Expatriate Philadelphian in Northern Virginia
7,754 posts, read 11,835,233 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by silverspringer View Post
We went up to the Philly suburbs for the weekend and I thought I'd return and report in case my impressions help anyone else. It was a worthwhile visit. Things look different than you imagine they will.

To recap, we live in the DC area now and are considering a job offer in Philadelphia. We were looking for a family-friendly, walkable town with good schools close to the city. Overall we were a little surprised by what we found.

I want to emphasize that we were only there for one rushed weekend so if I'm totally misrepresenting a place, I hope someone will correct the record. Also, it was a cold weekend so we didn't see many people out walking and there were no leaves on the trees, it was windy, and honestly a little bleak. So accounting for all of that, these were our impressions.

Media: We really liked Media. It wasn't on the top of our list but we were pleasantly surprised. It has a nice, good-sized town center. The town is laid out on a grid pattern. It isn't very fancy but is quaint and has charm. There are lots of old buildings with distinctive styles. There is a great big Trader Joe's where we stopped. People seemed friendly -- we struck up conversations without even trying. The train station in Media would be hard to walk to -- it's down a woodsy hill off a narrow road. There is some kind of trolley through town which we didn't see. It's a small town but has a Starbucks, a Quizno's, a Wendy's, as well as only-in-Media type stuff. I could easily see a family being happy here. It reminded me a little bit of Medford, N.J., where I used to live. That's probably a bad comparison. It isn't as colonial as Medford, and it's bigger I think, but it has a cute town feel and the streets of town are mostly flat rather than hilly.

Inner Main Line (Rosemont, Bryn Mawr, Haverford): This is where we thought we would totally fall in love, but it didn't happen. Rt 30 (Lancaster Ave?) the main road which these towns are right along, was stop-and-start congested even on a weekend. It reminded me of Rockville Pike. There were great grand old houses just off the strip but the commercial strip along Lancaster Ave was not what I'd call charming or even town-like -- it was more a long strip mall. Maybe I'm being a little unfair -- there was a muffin shop, an ice cream shop, some cute things -- but it didn't have a cute overall look. We stopped at the Barnes & Noble in Bryn Mawr. It was very tight and congested -- tight parking lot, small inside. We live in an urban area now, but it still seemed small to me. Lots of Mini Coopers driving around. People seemed brusque. We drove by some houses for sale. It was interesting to see which backed up to railroad tracks (several!) and were on busy streets (many!). I did not see any houses in what I'd consider a real neighborhood or evidence of kids and kidlife-- Lancaster and Montgomery Aves are busy streets that cut through and chopped up the towns.

Wayne: Wayne has a real downtown. It has a lot of little shops and seemed to be laid out like a cross. I think there's a farmer's market in the summer (?). It reminded me of West Hartford, CT -- a similar kind of pretty, developed downtown with restaurants and shops. It seemed like a lot of the shops were ones that we wouldn't use too often (expensive gift shops and boutiques) but it had an appealing look. There was an artisanal bakery, toy store, that kind of thing. The sidwalks are narrow. They are normal city sidewalks, not the extra-wide brick sidewalks you find in places like Bethesda, MD so there aren't sidewalk cafes or anything like that. I saw one stroller and a pack of teenage girls walking around, looking very affluent (fancy purses, etc). Everybody we saw in Wayne (and all of the places here) was white. This is sort of surprising if you come from an area like DC. There must be people of other ethnicities around (???) but we didn't see them. Just down the road a little bit from Wayne, in St. David's, were some big-box stores, looking very discreet and attractively built. There's the nicest, best-organized T.J. Maxx I've ever seen, a computer store, a Right Start with kids' stuff, etc. We continued west. There's a Whole Foods just west of Wayne in Devon. Overall that whole area was more to my liking than Haverford/Bryn Mawr, but I was worried about driving congested Rt. 30 to get anywhere. It seemed unlikely we'd be able to get a house walking distance to downtown. Just north of Wayne's center was a big neighborhood of large Tudor (?) or gothic (?) houses. Really different looking, like Sleepy Hollow. I guess it's impressive but I found them totally creepy. NMS.

Swarthmore: Swarthmore has a small town center with a library, a deli, a music store, a food co-op, the train station, and perhaps a few other things. It's quite small. Surrounding the town center are the most enormous old houses I'd ever seen. A lot of them are somewhat ramshackle, many are pretty good shape, but they are far too big for us. There were also smaller houses further from town. I saw basketball nets on cul de sacs, a father and son on bikes, and totally felt like kids were around. There was a mall (Springfield) nearby. It's sort of an OK/losing-momentum mall, Disney Store, Gap, etc., missing one anchor store, no food court, but would be fine to take little kids on a rainy day.

Wallingford: Wallingford met almost none of our criteria but it was probably our favorite. It's the other side of 476 from Swarthmore. It is hilly and wooded and felt like a remote little English village (also like Chadds Ford, if you've ever been there). The houses are mostly older, built of stone and white-painted clapboard, and set in the hillside. They are more the size we are looking for -- 4 bedrooms, maybe 5, spacious but not enormous. Some people have creeks in their yard. It's really a village, not a town: there is a library, Wawa, cute train station, school, and that's pretty much it. However it's a short (five minute?) drive to Media. The downside of Wallingford and Swarthmore is that property taxes are very high and that is a deterrent for us. On the flip side, schools are good (as they are in all these places).

So that's where we are. When we returned home, we started to think Wallingford was probably too remote for us, and now we're thinking of doing another trip to look at Center City, Chestnut Hill, Jenkintown, and other places to the north.

Hope this helps somebody!
Hello! I am a Philadelphia-area native who has been living in the DC metro for almost two years. So I can somewhat relate to what you're talking about from both sides.

Unlike the international flavor of the Washington area, Philly's suburbs aren't quite as diverse. This is particularly so along the Main Line which is arguably the wealthiest part of the area.

I know what you mean when you say Lancaster Avenue (Rt. 30) reminds you of Rockville Pike in MD. To be fair, the streets on 30 are a little narrower so you won't feel like you're risking your life crossing the street as you might in Rockville.

If you missed the light rail "trolley" in Media, then you probably missed State Street, the main drag in Media that includes the county courthouse. I agree that people tend to be friendly out there.

Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr and Haverford all have a close relationship because of their namesake liberal arts colleges. If you like that type of intellectual stimulation, you might find it interesting to live in one of those towns.

As the story goes, housing tends to be relatively cheaper in Delaware County, even in the mostly mid-to-upscale communities you looked at. However, yes, the flipside is the higher property taxes. So it's six of one, half-dozen of the other, as they say.

I've never spent much time in either Wallingford or Wayne so I can't really comment on either of them.

Overall, compared to the real and manufactured town centers in the relatively more urbanized cities and towns around Washington, you may find them fewer and farther between in the Philly burbs. Being able to walk from your home to, say, a major supermarket without also using mass transit may be a challenge. The closest I can think of would be the Abington/Jenkintown area.

On the other hand, the city has a number of neighborhoods that are family-friendly. However, if you don't live in particular neighborhood - for example, Greenfield School in Center City or Penn Alexander School in University City - you will find a lot of competition to get your kids in the relatively few public schools with positive reputations. You may also to research, depending on your disposition, schools that are public charter, Those two sections of town I mentioned both epitomize a walkable community.

Center City is a dense two square mile area where you should be able to find everything you want in a downtown district, except perhaps an abundance of upscale large department store shopping. (There is a Macy's as well as smaller-sized shopping in Liberty Place and along Rittenhouse Square.) Family-friendly neighborhoods might include Rittenhouse Square and Fitler Square. The Art Museum area is not bad either, although it might be inconvenient for kids... unless, perhaps they're attending the nearby private Friends Select school.

For a few years I lived in University City, which is just across the Schuykill River from Center City. It's a diverse community in which the University of Pennsylvania has a literal vested interest in its success.

While you're in Chestnut Hill, you may want to check Mount Airy down the road as well. I don't know anything about the schools in either of those areas, but I would assume that parent participation is relatively high.

Philly's cost of living is such that if your job opportunity is equal in pay to DC, you will be able to upgrade your lifestyle somewhat. Conversely, you could probably absorb a 10-15% salary adjustment and maintain your lifestyle.
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Old 03-12-2007, 12:12 PM
 
Location: Newtown Square, PA
179 posts, read 780,046 times
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you hit the nail on the head!!! LOL
you really ought to hit havertown and check it out, very family oriented town. traffic can be heavy on west chester pike heading into havertown from 476 during rush hour.
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Old 03-19-2007, 09:35 PM
 
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Silversprings... Thanks for posting your Philly area exploration!! Very helpful. I'll soon be relocating from Florida and don;t know the area at all. This site is a nice venue to get a head start on the search process.
Very kind of you to take the time to detail your experience.
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Old 03-19-2007, 10:04 PM
 
Location: Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, PA
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Default In-Town Living, Anyone?

I'll admit that one of PA's weak points is its extreme lack of walkable neighborhoods within close proximity to traditional downtowns. There once was a time in which PA probably lead the nation in the number of vibrant "in-town" living options, but now, sadly, I think I saw a recent statistic that showed that PA is losing its open space at the second-fastest rate in the nation behind GA (Sprawlanta). As more and more people take up residency in cookie-cutter tract-housing in the periphery, retailers, and eventually employers follow their consumers and/or employees out to suburbia as well, leaving urban decay in their wake in our once vibrant core cities. This only leads to us become more "autocentric", which increases our dependency upon foreign oil, congests our roadways, lengthens our commute times, and diminishes our air quality.

My own hometown represents this phenomenon perfectly. As recently as 50years ago, Pittston had a vibrant Main Street with a JCPenney, Woolworth's, American Theatre, and many other mom-and-pop stores. People came in from miles around to shop, dine out, and enjoy themselves, and Pittston was a desirable place to live. Now it's nearly 100% blighted, abandoned, and in despair. Meanwhile, nearby communities such as Pittston Township and Jenkins Township are booming with soaring populations and new commercial ventures galore (Wal-Mart Supercenter, Home Depot, etc.) I happen to live in Pittston Township, and I'm watching in horror as our traffic congestion continues to worsen, our crime rate increases, and our overall quality-of-life continues to decrease. This is why I can't wait to relocate to Center City Scranton in two years for graduate school, where I'd be within walking distance of both the University of Scranton and all of the amenities that downtown living has to offer.

I can think of very few communities in the entire commonwealth that have vibrant downtown areas. You have places such as Lewisburg, State College, and Bloomsburg that are thriving due to their large college student populations. You also have places like Stroudsburg and Jim Thorpe that are booming because of the nearby massive influx of well-to-do NYC/North Jersey transplants in recent years (who have also been causing the cost-of-living in the Poconos to skyrocket in recent years, but I digress). Bethlehem seems to be undergoing some sort of promising revival as well. Wilkes-Barre has a lot of great projects on the horizon, but the crimes occurring just this past week near my campus (a beating death, brutal home invasion, and an armed mugging, to name a few), are putting a damper on its revitalization efforts, as people continue to flee to the rapidly-growing well-to-do suburban areas. Scranton has a great public school district, very little crime, and is attracting a lot of new art galleries, coffee houses, and retail growth in its downtown. Unfortunately, it continues to suffer, overall, because of its former reputation as being an "economically-depressed coal town" that has scarred it for quite some time. Places such as Reading, Hazleton, Harrisburg, Williamsport, and Allentown won't be able to "bounce back" until their high crime rates are brought under control. Erie suffers from an abysmal job climate, and Pittsburgh suffers from abounding negativity from its own residents.

My dream for my family is being able to live somewhere with sidewalks, shade trees, low-crime, and within walking distance of schools, parks, churches, restaurants, banks, a grocery store, etc. I have very few options in the state except for the few you stated, along with parts of Philadelphia itself, Scranton, Bethlehem, and perhaps some areas of Pittsburgh are the only urban areas of the state that offer this type of pleasant environment. What has happened to PA? Since when did we become the state that opens its arms to urban sprawl while shunning the very core cities that help to propel it into an industrial powerhouse? What makes subdivisions so appealing to you all, anyways? Before you rant about crime rates, schools, etc., bear in mind that urban cores like Scranton also have low crime rates, good public schools, etc., so your complaints in that department are moot.

Last edited by SteelCityRising; 03-19-2007 at 10:08 PM.. Reason: Typo
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Old 03-19-2007, 10:50 PM
 
Location: Villanova Pa.
3,955 posts, read 8,487,753 times
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Originally Posted by ScrantonWilkesBarre View Post
What has happened to PA? Since when did we become the state that opens its arms to urban sprawl while shunning the very core cities that help to propel it into an industrial powerhouse? What makes subdivisions so appealing to you all, anyways? Before you rant about crime rates, schools, etc., bear in mind that urban cores like Scranton also have low crime rates, good public schools, etc., so your complaints in that department are moot.
SWB, at least down here around Philly its a class issue. The higher classes just want to be as far away from the lower class as possible. You mentioned schools but they are the tipping point down here in the Philly area. For whatever reason the lower class just cannot or will not function when it comes to education, so theres good reason that people want to be distanced from that.Hence you have your downtrodden older towns+ cities(Chester,Upper Darby,Norristown,Landsdowne) surrounded by fancy new detached wealthy subdivisions.

As far as SWB being an urban core with good schools, low crime etc. Thats great for SWB but thats simply not the case down here in Philadelphia. Being a much bigger, much more diverse area the crime figures dictate that if you can avoid certain urban areas you do. The test scores coming out of the poorer/minority towns and inner city Philly are abysmal.

The test scores of an average Philly suburban school district will be 85% math, 83% reading above average. Chester will come in at 18% math, 15% reading above average. Some of the Philly schools are in single digits above.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we have more extremes down here. We have more wealthy and we have more poor which kind of leads to a fractured segregated soceity.Result being the older towns being occupied with the lower socio economic citizens and the suburbs being the homes of the middle/upper middle class. The mainline is reserved for the wealthy.
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Old 03-19-2007, 11:09 PM
 
Location: Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, PA
26,426 posts, read 46,662,052 times
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Originally Posted by rainrock View Post
I guess what I am trying to say is that we have more extremes down here. We have more wealthy and we have more poor which kind of leads to a fractured segregated soceity.Result being the older towns being occupied with the lower socio economic citizens and the suburbs being the homes of the middle/upper middle class. The mainline is reserved for the wealthy.
I just think it's a bloody shame to see wealthy whites separating themselves from the poor minorities in the cities. I'm not a racist by any means, and I couldn't fathom wanting to move my families away from them.
The Main Line sounds like a "rich white guy haven", and Philly sounds as if it's largely a "down on your luck" type of city. How sad! I'm the opposite---I view places such as Philadelphia to be "historic" and "vibrant" and places such as the Main Line to be "dull" and "lacking character." I wonder how much more vibrant cities like Philadelphia (and even Detroit) could have been if they had not endured such severe "white flight" problems for so many years? Social classes should not separate themselves the way they have in SE PA. This has lead to many irreparable problems that I won't get into to help prevent this thread from being moved to the political forum.
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Old 04-09-2007, 11:48 AM
 
Location: South Carolina
130 posts, read 462,006 times
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Thanks Silverspringer for such a great and detailed account of the Philly suburbs! We too are considering relocating up there from DC (we live in Northern Virginia ) and it sounds like we're looking for similar things. I would love to find a suburb with a distinct walkable downtown and sense of community. Throw in a large number of young families and good schools and we'll be set. I was wondering what you (or anyone) thinks of West Chester, PA or Riverton, NJ in this regard? I know the taxes are higher in NJ but how are the schools?
Thanks in advance!
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Old 08-24-2007, 08:39 AM
 
Location: Montco PA
1,446 posts, read 2,443,219 times
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Distinct walkable downtowns with senses of community:

Ambler (more blue collar, but up-and-coming, or coming back)
Doylestown (further out but professional)
West Chester (further out but professional)
Lansdale (more blue collar, further out and less "professional")
Chestnut Hill (in Philadelphia)
New Hope (further out, gay-friendly, not convenient to the city)
Conshohocken (not much of a "downtown," but it definately has a sense of place, and it's close to the city)
Wayne, Media, and Swarthmore, as mentioned in previousl posts

I'm a bit suprised by some of the comments. I haven't been everywhere in the country, but I would think that the Philadelphia region has some of the most authentic, real, "downtown" areas, even if some are small. The Philadelphia region is not known for planned, 1,000+ home development. One of the reasons our traffic can be bad is because we don't have highways that were built to service suburban sprawl; many of our highways were built pre-sprawl. Further, to expand or build new highways around here often means tearing down parts of existing communities.
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