Philadelphia is often referred to as “The City of Neighborhoods,” and it’s true. Our city has dozens (or hundreds – depending on how you count!) of different neighborhoods, each with individual personality and flavor. To help out prospective renters, we’ve selected some areas of town popular with young people, and explained what they’re about, what kind of housing they offer, and how you can use public transit to get to where you have to go.
The physical and spiritual heart of Philadelphia, this tightly knit urban village is a model of what a city should be. Tall buildings reach for the sky; streets bustle with activity late into the night; bars and lounges pulse with music every night of the week; theaters, galleries, museums, and concert halls are plentiful enough to satisfy anyone’s need for culture. Stretching between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, and between Vine and South Streets, Center City includes neighborhoods like Rittenhouse, Washington West, Old City, Chinatown, Society Hill, and more. It offers buzzing activity and tranquil side streets, urban excitement and peaceful distractions, great history next to the ultimate modernity. It is also the home of thousands of students attending Moore, University of the Arts, Art Institute, Thomas Jefferson, Curtis, and the AVA.
Every type of housing imaginable can be found in Center City, from studios to penthouses, and two-story row houses to 45-story high-rises. It can also be quite pricey, although the increasingly rare inexpensive find is still available for the diligent searcher. Expect to pay at least $700-800 for a decent one-bedroom apartment, and usually even more, especially in Old City and the blocks between Washington and Rittenhouse Squares. Sharing a row house with a couple of friends may be the best option, and can often bring the per-person cost down to about $500.
Center City is the transit heart of Philly, with almost every route in the entire region criss-crossing on or under its streets. The Broad Street Line runs north and south, and Market-Frankford runs west and northeast. The Subway-Surface trolleys runs under Market Street before surfacing and serving University City and West Philly. All 13 Regional Rail Lines hit the three main train stations, and the PATCO train connects to South Jersey. Also, the 2, 7, 9, 12, 17, 21, 23, 25, 27, 30, 31, 32, 33, 38, 40, 42, 43, 44, 47, 48, 57, 61, 121, 124, 125, and C busses run out to the rest of the city and the inner suburbs. Rides to Penn, Drexel, USP, Temple, La Salle, CCP, and St Joe’s run 10-20 minutes, while Villanova, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Cabrini, Arcadia, Philly U, and Swarthmore are approximately 30 minutes by Regional Rail.
UNIVERSITY CITY – POWELTON VILLAGE
A sprawling campus environment gradually fading into tree-lined, student-friendly neighborhoods, University City is home to Drexel, USP, and of course, Penn. The presence of 30-40,000 college kids ensures a lively, young atmosphere, and the ethnic neighborhoods farther west make for a diverse melting pot of languages, music, and food. Those with IDs can choose from dozens of bars – dive to trendy and almost everything between. The territory begins on the west bank of the Schuylkill River and ends at some debatable point in the 40s – perhaps 44th St, maybe 48th or 49th.
Besides dorms, much of the housing in University City and Powelton comes in the form of large three- and four-story mansions from the late-19th and early-20th Centuries. Some have been converted to apartments, while many are still intact for group rental. Close to campus, prices are high, upwards of $500 for a studio in the low-40s near Penn, and mid-30s near Drexel. Moving west, or closer to Market Street, prices drop, especially if you’re not concerned with trash and empty lots. Also, during the summer, sublets can be found extremely cheap, sometimes even less then $300 for a great room in a large house.
The Market-Frankford Line stops at 40th, 34th, and 30th Streets (where it connects with all 13 Regional Rail lines), providing a quick link downtown (5-10 minutes). The trolleys also run downtown, with the 11, 13, 34, and 36 serving Penn’s campus and the streets west and southwest, while the 10 hits Drexel and runs northwest. Taking the trolley and then the subway to Temple or La Salle is a 30-35 minute ride. The 21 and 42 busses connect Penn to the business district and Old City, while the 40 runs straight from Spruce to South Street. The 31 and 43 buses connect Drexel to the business district and Northern Liberties, respectively.
NORTHERN LIBERTIES – FISHTOWN
The old neighborhoods north of eastern Center City have exploded with spillover from Old City’s rebirth. First NoLibs, then Fishtown (with Kensington possibly next…) have seen ancient brick houses snatched up and renovated, streets cleaned, and trendy hipster bars pop up out of nowhere. More a scene for the over-21 crowd, NoLibs and Fishtown are now known as places for artists and (pseudo) intellectuals, and those who want to be on the cusp of urban reclamation. Eclectic nightlife and musical diversity are hallmarks, and the variety of building and architecture are noteworthy. Watch out for new, indie hotspots along brand new Liberties Walk, and loads of new construction and loft conversions.
Narrow, red-brick row homes run horizon to horizon, but share space with old industrial lofts and warehouses. The area is generally more for buyers than renters, though rental units are definitely available. Many loft buildings are being converted to residential properties, and big developers are pushing hundreds of units of new construction, increasing the size and diversity of the market. Though gentrification has sent prices soaring, with some lofts going for upwards of $300k, there are still plenty of opportunities for a decent, relatively inexpensive house or apartment.
The Market-Frankford Line stops at Spring Garden Street, walkable to NoLibs’ main action, and Girard Ave, right at the edge of Fishtown. Meanwhile, the 5 bus runs from Old City’s big bar/club stretch through NoLibs and Fishtown, and on to Frankford. Buses run from the movie theatre and big-box shopping district in South Philly, to Frankford (the 25) and Olney (the 57). Also, the 15 bus (or is it a trolley?) runs the whole length of Girard to the Zoo, Fairmount Park, and Overbrook.
Long thought of as an ethnic ghetto for Italians and (formerly) Jews, South Philly now houses a melting pot of Asian, European, and American cultures. Pizza places dot the streets, along with ever-greater numbers of more upscale restaurants, while a large “Asian Market” on Washington Ave now complements the famous Italian Market on 9th. There’s argument over where “Sout’ Philly” (as the locals say) actually starts – the blocks below Washington are definitely in, but those between South and Washington (Queen Village, Bella Vista, and Graduate Hospital area) are debatable.
Hundreds of blocks of Philly row houses are the main fare of South Philly, although there are some apartment buildings and lofts to be found. Rental and owned houses are both available. Prices are generally cheap (forget about the $1 mil+ Lofts at Bella Vista), with house rentals often less than $1,000 for three- and four-bedroom units. As such, South Philly is usually for groups of students living together rather than students living alone.
The mighty Broad Street Line is the transit spine of South Philly, connecting to Center City in less than 10 minutes, and with Temple, CCP, an
d La Salle in less than 25. Going to Penn, Drexel or USP (via Market-Frankford Line or trolley) takes less than 30 minutes. There are also many bus options. The 2 runs along 17th/18th from Erie to Oregon; the 47 runs north-south to Center City, Chinatown, NoLibs, and Olney. East-west buses run straight along Snyder from Point Breeze to the Columbus Blvd shopping centers (the 79), and along Tasker and Morris (the 29). Also, the 64 bus connects Washington Ave to West Philly and Fairmount Park and the G bus connects Oregon Ave to West Philly and Overbrook.