Philly & Boston: Reflections about the Axis of New York

New York has two little brothers, one on each side

(Image from mapresources.com)

I have spent most of my life in the greater Philadelphia area. But I recently took a trip to Boston, and I was struck by the similarities between the two cities. They have more in common with each other than either of them has in common with New York, which lies between them.

New York City is, of course, the largest city in the United States and one of the largest in the world. It is generally considered to be the cultural, financial, and media capital of America.

But New York has two little brothers, one on each side. It has Boston to the northeast and Philadelphia to the southwest. If you drew a diagonal line through New York City, then Philadelphia and Boston could be thought of as reflections of each other about that line.

And that’s not just geographical. New York’s two little brothers are twins, because Philly and Boston have so much in common. In this article, I will present a list of 21 similarities that I have identified between the two cities.

Similarities between Philadelphia and Boston

1. They are both the centers of metropolitan areas that each contain around seven million people. Technically, the City of Philadelphia contains more than twice as many people as the City of Boston, but that just has to do with the arbitrary decisions of where you draw the city limits. The two metro areas have about the same number of people.

2. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were both founded by religious minorities who were escaping persecution in England. Massachusetts was founded by the Puritans, and Pennsylvania was founded by the Quakers (specifically by William Penn).

3. Both cities played prominent roles in the American Revolution (and New York didn’t). Boston was the site of the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, and the war began with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, nearby. And the Battle of Bunker Hill was in Charlestown, just across the river. Meanwhile, Philadelphia was the meeting place for the Founding Fathers and was therefore the place where the Declaration of Independence and (later) the Constitution were written up and signed. Philly is also the home of the Liberty Bell and was the site of several Revolutionary War battles. And naturally, Philly and Boston both like to use their Revolutionary history in their marketing.

4. Both cities were, at one time, the largest city in America.

5. Both cities have a historic/“Old City” section, which is dedicated to celebrating their Revolutionary War-era history, and which is separate from the downtown area where all the skyscrapers are.

6. Both cities have a high concentration of universities. Philadelphia has Penn, an Ivy League school, and Drexel, a STEM powerhouse, right in the heart of the city. Not to mention Temple, St. Joseph’s, LaSalle, and Villanova. Meanwhile, Boston is home to two of the most prestigious universities on earth in Harvard and MIT. (Technically, they are both in Cambridge, but that’s right across the river.) Not to mention Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern, and Tufts.

7. Both cities have a large Catholic population.

8. Both cities have a large Jewish population.

9. Both cities have experienced waves of immigration, as well as an influx of African-Americans during the Great Migration. (That’s also true of New York, by the way.)

10. Both cities have a distinct regional accent. In Philadelphia, water is “wooder” and glass is “gleahss”. In Boston, you pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd.

11. Both cities have a rich intellectual history, with many notable visionaries having lived there.

12. Both cities were hotbeds of abolitionism during the early and middle parts of the 19th Century.

13. Both cities have world-renowned orchestras and art museums.

14. Both cities are notorious for their rabid sports fans. In contrast, if you went to downtown Manhattan and interviewed some of the corporate leaders, news anchors, and celebrities, you’d probably find that most them don’t care very much about the Giants, Yankees, Jets, etc. Not so in Philly and Boston, where most of the city lives and dies along with the fortunes of its sports teams.

15. Both cities’ football and baseball teams had a reputation for mediocrity and “choking” throughout the second half of the 20th Century, but they all made a comeback and enjoyed more success in the 21st Century. In Philadelphia, the Eagles and Phillies have each earned one championship in the 21st Century so far, while in Boston, the Patriots and Red Sox have combined for a stunning ten championships since 2002 (they’ve had more than their fair share of winning in this century).

16. Both cities’ football teams have patriotic names (the Eagles and the Patriots). And both cities have one sports team whose name alludes to the American Revolution: for Boston, it’s the Patriots, and for Philadelphia, it’s the 76ers.

17. Still on the subject of sports, both cities have intense sports rivalries with their big brother, New York. The best rivalry in baseball is between Boston and New York (Red Sox vs. Yankees), and (arguably) the best rivalry in football is between Philadelphia and New York (Eagles vs. Giants).

18. Furthermore, within the last 20 years, it seems that an even greater rivalry has emerged between the two cities themselves, because the Eagles and Patriots have faced each other in the Super Bowl twice. The Patriots beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, but the Eagles got their sweet revenge over New England in Super Bowl LII in 2018. Both games were thrillers, surrounded by an overabundance of passion on both sides.

19. In both cities, most of the people you meet have spent their whole lives in that metro area. This is in contrast to New York, where (at least in Manhattan) most of the people you meet moved to the city as adults.

20. Both metro areas were the birthplace of a major chain of convenience stores, to which many of their residents feel a sense of loyalty. For Boston, it’s Dunkin’ Donuts, and for Philly, it’s Wawa.

21. Both cities boast of an “underdog mentality.” One could put forward several theories for why this is. Maybe it has to do with the history, as both cities played important roles in the American Revolution. Maybe it’s because they both have many working-class residents (but to be fair, so does every other city). Or maybe it’s because both cities resent the fact that they have to live under the shadow of their big brother, New York. But whatever the reason, I should point out that most of the people who claim they have an “underdog mentality” are not really underdogs. They just like to pretend that they are.

I’m sure there are a thousand other similarities between the two cities, but I will end my article here. My thesis is slightly ruined by the fact that Boston is actually more than twice as far away from New York as Philly is. But even if the geography doesn’t work out, the culture and history of Philadelphia and Boston prove that they are indeed reflections of each other. New York’s two little brothers are twins.

Grad student and TA. Born 1993.