Philadelphia Named America's "Next Great City"
September 27, 2005 -- Ask any Philadelphian what the city is known for and one of the first things people will tell you is the scene in "Rocky" where the underdog boxer runs up the steps of the city's art museum and pumps his fists in the air.
But the October issue of National Geographic Traveler delves beneath pop culture to reveal the historical, artistic and gastronomic layers of a place it has christened America's "Next Great City."
It's the first annual "Next Great Places" issue by the nation's largest travel magazine, joining other publications - notably Money magazine with its "Best Places To Live" rankings - in proclaiming the next hot spots.
"This is a city that has been greatly overlooked," said Keith Bellows, the magazine's editor-in-chief. "It's the last great opportunity for anyone who wants a terrific urban life in the Northeast."
Impressed by Philadelphia in recent visits, he had to convince his staff that the City of Brotherly Love would be the next hip metro area.
"They kind of all looked at me like I have lost my marbles," Bellows said.
But he dispatched his contributing editor, Andrew Nelson, to find out for himself.
What the author said he discovered was a Philadelphia that's no longer the city of "gritty urban decay" portrayed in the Rocky Balboa saga, nor "D.C. on a bad hair day." Long in the shadow of New York City and the nation's capital, Philadelphia now can flick off that supposed chip from its shoulder and stand tall on its own merits.
It's been a long time coming. While the city has plenty of history - it's where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted, and it's home to the Liberty Bell - urban decay had crept in as people fled to the suburbs in the 1970s. That has turned around in a big way.
There's a condominium building boom downtown, where the number of restaurants - highlighted by ventures from well-known restaurateurs Georges Perrier and Stephen Starr - has tripled since 1992. And the magazine called the Old City area, with its vibrant arts and nightlife scene, the liveliest urban neighborhood between SoHo in New York and SoBe in Miami.
A walkable city that bridges the old and new, Philadelphia boasts stately 19th-century neighborhoods, the Champs Elysees-inspired Benjamin Franklin Parkway and, soon, wireless Internet access throughout its 135 square miles.
Such revitalization efforts, together with a marketing campaign and high-profile events such as the Live 8 concert, have put Philly back on the map, city officials said.
Since 2000, the number of visitors to the city has grown by 21 percent to 25.5 million, said Meryl Levitz, president and chief executive of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., a nonprofit funded by public and private money to promote the city.
Part of the city's appeal is that it's not trying to be "uber sophisticated. It was very comfortable with its own image," Bellows said.
But he added that the city's self-image needs a little work: "Philly has a little bit of an underdog sense of itself and it doesn't even realize how great it is."
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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