I had dinner in Manayunk with a friend the other night. Manayunk is a neighborhood in Philadelphia, in the Northwest part of the city, stretching north along eastern shore of the Schuylkill River, and on the hills that rise up from it. The origin of the name is the Lenape Indian word "manaiung" meaning, "where we go to drink". People still to to Manayunk to drink, but nowadays usually things like coffee, beer, and wine.
Manayunk a hundred years ago was a working-class suburb of Philly, and the home of many new immigrants from all over the world. In the past two decades, it has undergone gentrification, or maybe just yuppification. Manayunk Main Street is now lined with boutiques and restaurants. Some of the restaurants are quite good. Some are expensive. Some are not. My friend and I ate at the Kansas City Prime, which was very good, and also rather expensive. I haven't eaten at most the many restaurants in Manayunk—CitySearch lists no fewer than 98—^^;; but I have tried, and can recommend Hikaru, Japanese of course, with very good sushi in particular, and Le Bus, casual and inexpensive. Both are part of the Main Street scene.
Manayunk is fun. Main Street was crowded on a Wednesday night. Lots of restaurants have little sidewalk cafes, there's music everywhere, and the crowd was pretty diverse. Young hip-hoppers and goths rubbed elbows with middle-aged yuppie lawyers and, uh, doctors. I live in one of the leafier suburbs of Philly, and while the country is nice in many ways, walking through the bustle of Manayunk made me wonder, once again, whether I wanted to move back to the city. I wonder this a lot. I think that in the end, I may be more of a city mouse than a country mouse. There's something in the atmosphere of a city—no, not pollutants—that is just... alive, vital, energetic. There's something that just cheers you up, walking along a busy city street, lined with shops, restaurants, maybe theatres. You feel connected with the rest of the human race. At least, I do. I love nature and solitude, too. But I also love a busy city.
But every time I think of moving back into Philly I get cold feet. The problem is Philly. I am very concerned that Philadelphia may be a dying city. In the 2000 census it was, I think, the only major metropolitan area besides Detroit that actually lost population. People are still fleeing Philadelphia. It's not crime, mainly. Philadelphia isn't especially dangerous compared to other cities. I think it's mainly money and jobs. Jobs are still leaving. The city is very inhospitable for business, because of union issues and tax policy. It also has the highest city wage tax in the nation. It is possible for a city to melt away to nothing. That's scary, but it happens. It happened to Camden, just across the Delaware River from Philly. It happened to Chester, just down the Delaware. Chester was once a prosperous blue-collar town built around the shipbuilding industry. Shipbuilding moved elsewhere, and Chester went straight downhill. It's now desperately poor, with a perennially corrupt political class, no middle-class to speak of, just a barren landscape of crackhouses. Camden is only a little better. Camden's mayor was just convicted in December 2000 of 14 counts of bribery. He is the third mayor of Camden in five years to be convicted of corruption in a Federal court. I don't know what future Camden can have.
Could that happen to Philly? Could a city as large as Philadelphia fail utterly? Yes, I know, entire nations and civilizations have failed, but if that happens to the US, all of our gooses are cooked, together. But could the nation prosper, and my city fail? I worry about that. I worry about a city that is still losing population when all other cities are gaining it, that still seems hostile to new jobs and new ideas. I worry about buying a house there, and seeing its value fall to zero. Despite the fact that I love a busy city, and maybe I would be happier living in the middle of one, I hesitate to move back to Philadelphia for that reason. But I still think about it a lot.