Are there any affordable boho enclaves left to be discovered? Where is the next Silverlake, East Austin or Williamsburg? Can Columbus or Charleston ever truly compete? Artists aren't just leaving New York for LA – they're also flocking to places like Fishtown in Philadelphia.
Fishtown’s warp-speed transformation, and the demographics fueling America’s new urban revolution, is magnetizing a new generation of young professionals who are rejecting suburbia, car culture and food deserts in favor of independently-owned retailers and farm-to-table restaurants, to move back downtown again.
Fishtown’s connectedness is the envy of every American neighborhood trying to reinvent itself thanks in large part to “the El”—one of America’s oldest elevated subways and Philly’s transportation crown jewel. Linking Fishtown with downtown Philadelphia in less than nine minutes, the El is the reason why home values here have nearly tripled since the Great Recession. At the rate things are going there won’t be an empty lots left by 2020.
Fishtown is now Philadelphia’s most energetic and innovative foodie neighborhood. Furthermore, it’s incubating dozens of other small-scale start-ups and retailers—like craft distilleries, brewers, organic markets, apparel and graphic designers—who are in turn attracting new talent, fresh ideas, and investing back into the neighborhood’s intellectual life.
For other cities seeking to re-imagine their own historic downtowns, Fishtown’s comeback is instructive. Sustainable development can leverage a community’s existing, working fabric without tearing the old-school threads apart. Of course the problem with gentrification, and the inevitable Airbnb rental properties bringing in tourists like me, is the impact “artwashing” can have on displacing diverse and working-class communities. The neighborhood's new vibrancy and allure are good things, as long as it doesn’t lose its character, which is why people want to move there in the first place.