Philadelphia Will Do

As insignificant magazine charticles go, New York magazine’s Approval Matrix is fine by me. Each week the editors cobble together very short notes on culture, politics, and current events on a Cartesian graph. The X-axis ranges from Despicable to Brilliant, and the Y from Lowbrow to Highbrow. Land in the wrong spot, and you’ve been served.

And this week, the most despicable (yet highbrow!) thing out there is “The City of Philadelphia’s undistinguished architecture and culture.” Running alongside? A thumbnail photo of a crumbling building.

As far as I know, this is absolutely peg-less; nothing ignominious happened in Philly’s cultural or architectural scenes to merit the slam. So what’s up? Maybe it was a way for Gotham’s media gestalt to beat up on the City of Brotherly Love during the World Series. Or maybe Adam Moss got stuck on the Acela at the 30th Street Station.

The station, by the way, is one of the country’s 150 most beloved buildings, according to a survey by the American Institute of Architecture. Past polls of the organization’s members have picked Philadelphia as one of America’s ten most architecturally important cities, and if you look around, you’ll see they’re not alone in that judgment. There are buildings by Robert Venturi and Louis Kahn, not to mention entire neighborhoods of lovingly-preserved colonial and early American houses.

One could go on, but what’s the point. The assertion that Philly, the nation’s sixth largest city, has nothing to offer architecturally—let alone culturally!—is absurd on its face.

You could argue that I’m taking the Matrix, which the magazine forthrightly describes as a “deliberately oversimplified” feature, a bit too seriously. And you’d probably be right.

But still, it’s hard to see it as anything other than an open and shut case of instinctual New York (and New York) snobbery. Yes, Philly is no New York. (No American city is, really.) But since when does not being New York mean that you’re just “undistinguished” and “despicable?”

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.