I’m sitting in my brand new living room basking in the light sipping on some much needed coffee. I mean, these windows are killer. After a grueling and long move from North Carolina (during a pandemic!) to the gorgeous and historic neighborhood of Germantown Philadelphia we’re finally here and moved in. Nothing is where it belongs and we still have all this furniture that still hasn’t been delivered (Come on couch!). But this is where the fun begins. I can actually start planning and thinking about the future. I have so many projects in mind, including my brand new blog. Quarantine left me with lots of time to figure out wordpress and I’m quite proud of the results.
This is my first blog post and I’m so happy you’re here to join me on this journey. This blog will be where I will post my love for all things DIY, original embroidery art, recipes, decorating tips and updates on my fiction writing. I’ve spent the last ten months living in Greensboro, North Carolina writing, making art and supporting my partner Kyle during his last year in grad school. Now we’re finally in Philadelphia and I couldn’t be happier with our choice to move here.
We had visited Philly for a weekend trip to scope it out back in early March and just days after we got back the pandemic shutdown the entire world. Just like that we had to reconsider all that we had planned and work within the parameters of the world’s events. It was bizarre and scary, especially in the beginning when we didn’t know what was happening. We couldn’t believe that just two months before his graduation date so much of the world had changed. But, we knew we still had to move. Greensboro was not the place for these two New Yorkers. The both of us needed better access to the arts and to be closer to friends and family on the North East. So we vowed to never have to make that 12 hour car ride ever again. Especially now that we have Wynona, our adorable Pitbull puppy mix.
Considering a big move is hard work. All the research and planning (and dreaming) can be just as stressful as it is exciting. We landed on Philadelphia, specifically Germantown as our top choice for the move for many reasons.
Diversity and community were a big one for us. Not only was the US hit with a disastrous plague but we are also in the midst of nationwide protests against police brutality targeted at Black Americans, sparked by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Tayler. Watching the news was painful and I ached to be back in New York so that I can protest with my friends and family. The uprisings started about a week before we had planned to move and it brought on a whole different kind of stress. Now I’m a Gay Puerto Rican man that fell in love with a white man and with that comes some responsibilities on both our part to be more aware of how our presence can affect a neighborhood. We were challenged to face and recognize racial inequity and systemic racism which led us to really think about gentrification and what part we might play in it by moving.
NC is definitely a diverse place, but visibly segregated. Now ask anyone from Philly and they’d say Philadelphia is just as segregated as any other (or worse). So we knew we were in for a lot of research on where in Philly we wanted to live. We had a hard time navigating the idea that we would be adding to the system of displacement through gentrification. We didn’t want to move into an “up and coming” neighborhood (super coded language) that was pricing people out of their homes. In my old neighborhood of Washington Heights I saw first hand how the gentrification makers (real estate agencies) went from calling it Washington Heights to “Hudson Heights,” marketing the neighborhood to new young white families as a retreat from the busy and crowded downtown Manhattan areas. Then came price surges in rent, new unaffordable restaurants and lots of families of color having to move out. The neighborhood was over, it had been “discovered.”
Having the distance of NC to Philadelphia created the issue of us not being able to see our apartment or neighborhood. To get an in-person feel for it was important but considering the pandemic restrictions and risk of exposure we ended up just doing a lot of research online. Most apartment listings in Philly seemed to be on Trulia so we relentlessly scoped out the app for apartments in our price range. Trulia has a feature on it that shows the “crime” in the area, color coordinating the city map from white (no crime) to dark blue (high crime). We realized very quickly that this feature was super problematic considering that people of color specifically black people are reported for minor crimes at a much higher rate than white people. So we quickly disregarded that and looked up articles from many resources instead.
We found that Germantown seemed like the best fit to avoid being part of the gentrification machine. It’s racially and culturally integrated in a way that seemed promising to us. From our research the area of Germantown has a rich history of inclusion that we hoped still rang true. While nowhere near perfect we felt it most fit our goal in anti-displacement. So far moving here has exceeded our expectations. Read these awesome articles on How Germantown is Gentrifying without Displacement & The Black Middle Class Boom in Germantown for a more indepth look on the area’s demographics and gentrification status.
Affordability was our second most important priority. New York has one of the highest rents in the country. For example, I lived in a really cute 3 bedroom apartment in Washington Heights all the way North in Manhattan on 181st. My roommates and I paid roughly a thousand a month each for our three bedroom apartment, not including utilities, transportation, groceries, and the occasional outing to a bar or restaurant (because why live in NYC if you never go out?). And just to prove how skewed the New Yorker perception of rent is, people thought our place was cheap! It’s a difficult thing to maintain, especially if you’re an artist and refuse to work a corporate 9-5 job. In Philly my entire rent for this sun drenched one bedroom apartment is about $1200. For the entire apartment. The kicker is that we have a rooftop lounge and IN-UNIT LAUNDRY! How many years I dreamed of such a thing. This New Yorker’s mind was blown by the prospect.
There’s a quality-of-life shift that comes with paying less for housing. We spend less on rent so we can use those funds for other things (like saving for a house). Also, and this one baffles me, for some reason there’s plenty of parking in Philly which means we can keep our car. Having a car in New York is impossible (unless you’re willing to shell out an extra $500/month for parking). There were days when we had to circle around the neighborhood for an extra hour looking for parking, only to bite the bullet and park it in a garage (there goes $40). Having a car here means we can run errands easier and take some weekend trips without the hassle of public transportation (because who wants to be on public transit during Covid?).
Another perk to moving to Philly was its proximity to New York. All of our friends and family still live there and being only 2 hours away really helps in seeing them more frequently. If you’ve ever lived in New York you know you could easily spend 2 hours on the subway (one way) trying to get from Washington Heights to Brooklyn.
Lastly, New York is a hustler’s world. I’m a true New Yorker, born and raised (Queens Represent!) but it’s not an easy place to live. While there are a plethora of career opportunities, it’s a 24/7 kind of grind. If you’re not on your game, someone else is. This sort of mindset has its perks. A New Yorker is never stagnant, they’re always looking toward the future and their own progress which keeps you movin and shakin. But on the flip side, burnout is real. In New York I kept two jobs (sometimes 3). I bartended four nights a week and taught creative writing to kids during the day. I also ran a Queer Writers Workshop every summer, and somehow spent time with my partner and scheduled in social time with friends. But, that sort of lifestyle could be hard to sustain. Philly offers a lot of what New York does with a little less of the hustle– Job opportunities, affiliations with the arts, theater and writing communities.
These are just some of the things we considered before moving here. Of course, the glaring thing we’re all struggling with is that no matter where you move, Covid-19 and this pandemic are still a real thing and the guidelines have to be followed. It is a shame that we don’t get to fully experience our neighborhood and all the things Philly has to offer. Wearing a mask is a necessity. The act of it is still a difficult reminder that things are bad out there and we need to keep quarantining to the best we can. So far I’m hopeful that things will workout for us here, and I look forward to the world healing in all ways. My wish for all of this is that we can find a new normal and move into a better version of what could be for all of us.
For now, Cheers to Philly and to pushing forward despite the difficult paths we are forced to navigate.
Stay tuned for apartment updates and DIY Color-Blocking painted walls.