Philly Firsts!

Earlier this year, the Lonely Planet ranked Philadelphia as #1 of Best Places to Visit in the U.S. To celebrate, let's look at a couple "firsts" and "bests" that might explain why Philly, indeed, is so great.

+ In 1731, Philadelphia opened the first US library.
+ The first US hospital was established in 1751.???
+ UPenn was the first-ever American university, founded by Ben Franklin in ((()))
+ Philadelphia boast's America's first zoo, just two miles north of Penn (1874).
+ The world's first full electronic computer, ENIAC, was created in Philadelphia in 1946. 
+ Philadelphia experienced the greatest growth in millennial population among major metropolises between 2006-2014, at 6.3% (NYC totaled in at 3.1%).
+ Temple Health was the first researchers to successfully eliminate the HIV from cultured human cells
+ In 2015, the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania gained international acclaim for executing the first bilateral hand-transplant on five-year-old Zion Harvey.

Notwithstanding all of the above, the city of Philadelphia is still in an upward trajectory like its never seen before, and man, it feels good to be number one.

-Helen N. '18

Philadelphia: A Bite-sized City Tour

From being dubbed "#1 in the US for overall culture and historic sites" by Travel + Leisure, to being named UNESCO's first and only US World Heritage City, there's certainly a lot of exploring to be done in the city of Brotherly Love. 

Old City: The cobbled streets of Old City host not only many important monuments to the birth of a nation (thank you, Nicolas Cage and the cast and crew of "National Treasure"), but also some of Philly's most fashionable neighborhoods. Penn's Landing offers amazing views of the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Spruce Street Harbor Park, just one SEPTA token away from Penn's campus. In between the two rivers Schuylkill and Delaware lies Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the oft-photographed LOVE Park.

Northern Liberties and Fishtown: In the early 1990s, there was a movement that pegged these two areas as the city's creative and artistic scene. Known for its quirky bars, indie boutiques, and live music, North Philly boasts open-air plazas, live screenings, and dance performances. You can't go wrong with a part-coffee-shop-part-record-store combo. 

South Philadelphia: Characterized by its large Italian community, South Philly is home to the Italian Market, one of the oldest and largest open-air markets in America. Spanning 10 blocks, it features everything from Mexican taquerias to Vietnamese banh mi stalls, to the (in)famous Philly cheesesteak. 

University City: Of course, the stomping ground for Penn (and Drexel) students lies West of the Schuylkill River. Not without its merits, University City boasts several artsy hang-outs and late-night joints like the Institute of Contemporary Art and World Café Live, a concert venue for up-and-coming artists. Head north and you'll run into the Philadelphia Zoo and several hiking trails, perfect for those much needed afternoon escapes.

Philadelphia is known as a city of neighborhoods, each offering a different perspective of the city and its diverse people.

-Helen N. '18

Little Campus; Big City

One of the biggest things that swayed me to apply to Penn was that it was an enclosed campus within a larger city, that is to say, a Philadelphian school that's actually in the geographical, actual Philadelphia proper.

How often and where else in the country can you drop $1.80 (the price of a SEPTA token) and leave your dorm, finding yourself with slow-churned ice cream in hand, looking across the river at the next state over?

What's more, is that Philadelphia is also just one bead in a string of pearls that make up the metropolises of the East Coast. Ten bucks can get you to Boston; five bucks will take you to the Big Apple, and MegaBus has just recently announced its $1 service to/from Washington DC(?!).

With the hustle and bustle of the Ivy League lifestyle, getting out of the Penn bubble can sometimes be difficult. However, knowing that these urbanities lie just a cab, bus, or train ride away makes the world—and all its treasures—seem that much smaller.

-Helen N. '18

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway

The Benjamin Franklin parkway that starts from the City Hall is a wide, long parkway that demonstrates the magnificent aspect of Philadelphia. Its magnificence culminates with the Greek Revival-style Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the largest art museums in the country. On top of such great landmark, the district has many other museums, and the one that I enjoy going is the Barnes Foundation.

Originally located in Lower Merion, the Barnes Foundation holds over 2,500 objects collected by Albert C. Barnes, an avid collector of art. The foundation has a significant amount of Impressionist and Modernist works, such as those by Monet, Renoir, Cezanne and Modigliani.

The prominent characteristic that stands out to me every time I visit the Barnes Foundation is the placement of its objects. Paintings, metal works and furniture are compactly put together, in a way that the ensemble itself becomes a work of art. Although it is sometimes hard to articulate, I sense that Barnes is narrating a story through his collection.

Another aspect that grabbed my attention was the different feelings I perceive from the same painting as the lighting changes. The cloud drifts over the sun during the day, and the brightness of the room adds a new layer to appreciating the collection.

Whether you are a huge museum-goer or are just pleasantly interested, I would suggest walking down the parkway and view the collection. It is one of the ways the city helps me take a break from busy school routines.

-Michelle J. '17

Mural Arts Philadelphia: The Bigger Picture

Philly is known for plenty of things: cheesesteaks, the LOVE statue, the playground for Nicolas Cage in National Treasure. But not many people know that Philly is also known for being, quite literally, an outdoor museum.

In my last post, I talked about the courses that took you beyond the confines of the traditional classroom, which included FNAR 222, "Big Pictures: Mural Arts". More than a mere course about wall paintings, the class took us around the city and back in time, highlighting the socio-economic, cultural, and political impact on public art in a community.

Aimed at integrating service with research, teaching, and learning, the class focused on the work done by Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program (the director of the program, Jane Golden Heriza, co-teaches the course with muralist Shira Walinsky). Many, if not most, of my friends at Penn actually had never heard of the organization before I took the class (re: could never stop talking about it). This is surprising, however, as there have been over 3,600 murals painted in Philly since 1984. The program also employs over 300 artists annually, ex-convicts, art students, and interested community members—all of whom want to give back to the community.

Sit on a Market-Frankford train heading westward and you’ll see 50+ “love letters” to an unnamed woman scattered across the buildings. Look up while shopping on 15th and Chestnut to gaze at a 27-story painting of a Pakistani immigrant. Or walk ONE block off campus, to 40th and Chestnut to view one of the most vibrant compositions you’ve ever seen.

Once in a while, get your head out of the books and into the city. Take a walking tour to see these works, scan the accompanying QR codes to learn more about the work and its artist. As Jane Golden describes it, the city becomes a visual autobiography. What started as an anti-graffiti movement has since echoed its increasingly diverse population and rich history, transforming Philadelphia into one of the most colorful cities in the nation.

-Helen N. '18


An Ode to Three Course Meals: How to Navigate Philadelphia Restaurant Week

If you're anything like me, you highly value the combination of really good food at a really good price. That's why I always look forward to the two weeks of the season where I can take advantage of Philadelphia Restaurant Week. Some of the most famous restaurants in downtown Philadelphia create a special menu for this week of three courses for $20 for lunch or $35 for dinner. In short, it's awesome, and I highly recommend taking advantage of it to go to all those restaurants you've always been meaning to go to but never had a truly good enough reason to casually go for a super nice dinner. Now that I'm a seasoned pro at restaurant week, here are a few ways I've found are the best ways to take advantage of Restaurant Week:

1) Go to that restaurant

You know, the one you've been dying to try since you promised first day of freshman year that you would go into Center City all the time. Now's your chance! Grab some friends who made that same promise and take the initiative to finally try it out. Philly's restaurant scene is epic, and you're only here (for school, at least) once!

2) Go for lunch

Yes, I know it may seem odd to casually stroll downtown for a three course lunch in the middle of the week, but trust me, it's so worth it. It's cheaper without sacrificing much food. Plus, since Restaurant Week usually happens at the beginning of the semester, it can be a super fun way to reunite with friends after the break to catch up over a shared experience of eating a lot of really good food.

3) Do your research

It's true- some menus are better than others, and since multiple Restaurant Week meals can add up despite the insane deal it appears to be, I highly recommend looking through every menu to see which is the most appealing. If you're choosing a restaurant to go with a group, keep in mind the value of ordering different things and sharing everything for maximum taste testing.

4) And if you're here in the summer... go in University City!

I was here during the summer and was able to take advantage of UCity Dining Days, which has a slightly different setup but was still an awesome way to try out restaurants near campus that I had been meaning to try. Look out for it if you're in Philly for the summer!

-Caitlyn R. '17

The Philadelphia Concert Scene

Philly is a hub of cultural perfection. Just walking down to Center City brings on a pleasant onslaught of sensations—we have pieces of the world at our Millennial fingertips. However, in my opinion, Philadelphia as a center for musical genius is one of the most valuable parts of the city’s composition. Music injects life into the city, providing an additional piece of vitality in its diverse makeup. In Philadelphia, you’ll get an eclectic tasting of pretty much every musical genre and the artists that dominate each respective genre. Thus, whatever type of music you currently vibe with, it’s guaranteed to come through Philly at some point or another.

As a self-proclaimed music buff, I made it my personal mission to explore the Philadelphia music scene on the weekends. Just attending a concert assists in popping that infamous Penn bubble, since music is a famous medium of emotional escape. The vibrant music scene in Philly offers an even more opportune physical escape, which is such an advantageous prospect to use. Just grab some friends, cruise the Ticketmaster website, and you will surely discover an artist you have been dying to see in some awesome Philadelphia concert venue. The city has intimate venues such as the Theater of Living Arts, which contribute a more intimate atmosphere with the performer, as well as bigger venues such as Union Transfer which provides a more historic texture.

Every year in the fall semester, Philadelphia houses the Made in America music festival that usually includes industry giants. To give you an example, The Weeknd and Beyonce were the headliners this past year, with names such as Future, Banks, J. Cole, Big Sean, Meek Mill, and Nick Jonas making a stunning appearance. It’s an event that many Penn students participate in, as one of the most well-known and well-received music fests of the year. The Philadelphia concert scene is definitely a place for all music lovers.

-Karis Stephen '18

Markets in Philadelphia

Philly is a multi-faceted city with a vibrant vibe that you’ll never get tired of. While the Center City district is very urban with skyscrapers and bustling traffic, some other parts of the city are more of a town with pretty residential areas. One of the best ways to explore this versatile city is going to markets.

Reading Terminal Market is by far one of the most accessible. Located near the City Hall, the eclectic collection of shops and food places constantly draws people. For foodies at Penn, Reading Terminal Market offers an overwhelming number of options that you will likely find yourself in the market every once in a while to try something new.

Italian Market is further away from campus and is rather difficult to reach via public transportation, but it is another must for students in the city of cheesesteak. Try the original Philly cheesesteak from Pat’s and Geno’s and also get some more cheese from the 75-year-old Di Bruno Bros.

Spread throughout the city are farmers’ markets. One opens on Wednesdays right on Penn’s campus in front of the bookstore, bringing fresh fruits and produce to students for easy fruit and bread shopping. Another one in Clark Park on Saturdays is larger and you can take a walk to West Philly on your way to the park. Rittenhouse Square also has one on Saturdays, if you feel like going east of campus.These are just some of the well-known markets in Philadelphia and there certainly are many more that I have not been to yet. The city is hiding some precious gems, so get ready to explore.

-Michelle Jo '18

How to burst the "Penn Bubble": Courses that Take You Beyond the Classroom

Before coming to Penn, I was excited to take advantage of its "campus within a big city". I wanted to see the PMA, watch Broadway shows at the Kimmel Center, enjoy the perks of Restaurant Week, and frequent Phillies and Eagles games.

However, upon arrival, I was instantaneously swept up into the maelstrom that is NSO and the piece of jargon known by Quakers as the "Penn Bubble". But perhaps more importantly, I soon came to appreciate the classes that transported us outside of the classroom and into the wilderness city. Often times, I've found that in such classes, I've learned more than a textbook or a slideshow could ever teach me (and far more interestingly at that), and I've been able to explore and appreciate the city better. My favorite Penn-bubble-bursting classes? I’ve described a few of them below:

ENGL 157 -- Introduction to Journalistic Writing: Writing About Food with Rick Nichols

A class that not only teaches how to think and write critically, but how to think and write critically about food (...and the people, the trends, and the experiences, of course). Frequent field trips took us to restaurants around town, where we could profile famous chefs or prominent members of the Philadelphia food scene and hang out with them for a day before writing a piece on them for a final project. Not only a nice break from Penn, but also a nice break from Penn dining halls!

ARTH 106 -- Architect and History with Professor Haselberger

What better way to learn about architecture than to walk in the shadows of one of America's most culturally diverse and historically rich cities? Professor Haselberger is famous for teaching this course every fall, which attracts majors and non-majors alike. Almost every Friday afternoon, we would take the SEPTA into the city proper and look at a different building inspired by whatever time period we had been looking at earlier that week—Greek, Post-modern, Rococo, etc. A bonus? I learned how to better navigate the city for outings to come.

FNAR 222/URBS 322 -- Big Pictures: Mural Arts with Shira Walinsky and Jane Golden

This class is taught by two wonderful women—Shira Walinksy and Jane Golden, the founder of the prolific Mural Arts program that has created thousands of murals all around Philadelphia and given employment opportunities to hundreds of inmates of Graterford Prison. It’s a community-service based course in which you learn about the ways in which public art shapes the socio-economic development of an area and changes the people who inhabit it. The final project involved creating a mural with a community that was eventually installed at a school in West Philadelphia—an unconventional solution to a common problem.

The Penn bubble is, in my opinion, absolutely real. We get sucked into our textbooks and laptops and papers. And while the resources that we have here on campus are beyond wonderful, sometimes you really cannot beat learning from the real thing. There’s so much of Philadelphia to be explored, and luckily Penn provides the courses to do so.

-Helen Nie (C’18)