Missing the Northeast: neighborhood identities

I think a lot about how drastic the difference seems to be between people from the Northeast and those from New Jersey in how they identify themselves.

Obviously, a lot of this has to do with the sheer difference in size between Philadelphia and most towns in New Jersey. People from the Northeast often distinguish themselves based on neighborhoods (or parishes, especially those who live in areas that are prominently Catholic; however, that is another column for another time), a point that can easily be proven by looking at the sidebar of this website.

Now, many New Jerseyans, on a broader note, may distinguish themselves by North and South Jersey. Many identify themselves by county. However, in the six years I have spent in New Jersey, I have found the main identification factor for N.J. residents to be the towns in which they grew up.

This is greatly exemplified by two of my South Jersey-bred coworkers who constantly needle each other for their respective hometowns, always trying to one-up each other on which town’s high schools, entertainment venues, residents and other factors are better.

This all happens as I look on in amazement, because no two parts of the Northeast, let alone Philadelphia as a whole, are the same.

Neighborhood Pride vs. Town Pride

Although I have to say that I am a big fan of many towns in New Jersey, especially the ones in which I have lived, and see why so many residents stand by their town first and foremost, I have to enact my bias to vouch for neighborhood pride.

In all, it makes for a more multidimensional understanding of Philadelphia. I have spoken with many people (most from New Jersey) who, upon hearing that I am from Philadelphia, have told me they are not a big fan of the city.

However, most of these people have never been anywhere in the city other than South Street or to the stadiums in South Philadelphia. Many are blown away when I explain to them how the Northeast basically feels like a city in itself. And they’ve definitely never been anywhere near the Modena Park/Chalfont area, my place of residence for the first 18 years of my life and a place in which I have a considerable amount of pride.

My Familiarity with the Northeast Neighborhoods

Now, given that I actually didn’t acquire my driver’s license until approximately a month before I left for college in New Jersey and never really used SEPTA while growing up, I really never spent enough of my time getting to know the neighborhoods in the Northeast.

In fact, other than having a few friends from high school sprinkled throughout the Parkwood, Mayfair and Wissinoming areas, the only method I had for growing accustomed to the various neighborhoods was by playing sports for traveling teams.

For instance, I could and probably still can identify certain neighborhoods, such as Torresdale and Holmesburg, throughout the Northeast by their baseball fields. I even used to harbor occasional disdain for certain neighborhoods simply because their teams used to demolish us.

Alas, though, my lack of any significant amount of athletic abilities prevented me from making any more than two traveling teams. Therefore, my neighborhood education adventures were drastically short-lived.

Increasing Pride from a Distance

In the last few years, though, as I seem to move farther and farther away from the Northeast, my desire to want to learn more about and increase my pride in the area where I grew up has slowly turned into guilt for not having taken more advantage of this great area, as well as the city as a whole.

To remedy this, I have tried a few different things.

First, whenever I have been home and driving around recently, I have been paying greater attention to important street signs and highway exits, especially those off  I-95 and the Boulevard, to make sure my both my neighborhood and Northeast pride is not just all talk and no walk.

Nothing is more embarrassing than talking up the Northeast to somebody and then not properly being able to give directions to Tacony — which I have done before.

Second, whenever anybody asks a good place to check out in Philadelphia, I usually try to lead into my suggestions with a few local points of reference. For instance, if people say that they have heard that Pat’s or Geno’s is overrated, I tell them to check out Steve’s Prince of Steaks just outside Normandy.

If people are looking to do some cheap shopping (and also do a fair amount of walking), I tell them to check out the Franklin Mills Mall at least once, simply to say they have.

Finally, it hasn’t hurt to write a column for a website that focuses completely on reporting news and information regarding the neighborhoods in which we live, and doubtless maintain a hefty amount of pride.

Missing the Northeast is a column written by Stephen Wilson, a former Northeast resident who moved to New Jersey for work. You can read his column on the last Monday of every month.

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