Suburbanites Give High Marks to Philadelphia as a Place to Visit but Not to Live

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Suburbanites Give High Marks to Philadelphia as a Place to Visit but Not to Live

Residents of Philadelphia's suburbs have a generally positive impression of the city, though they value it more as a place to visit than as a place to live.

In addition, suburbanites think there is a strong link between Philadelphia's future and that of their own communities. But they identify less strongly with the city than they did a decade ago, when their views on these topics were last surveyed.

These are among the findings of a new poll of 801 residents of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania and Burlington, Camden and Gloucester in New Jersey. The survey, which explored attitudes toward the city of Philadelphia, was commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative and conducted by Abt SRBI Public Affairs, working with Rutgers Professor Cliff Zukin.

Fifty-three percent of suburban residents think the city is headed in the right direction while only 24 percent say it is off on the wrong track. That is a rosier assessment than Philadelphia residents gave in a poll conducted for the Philadelphia Research Initiative in January—41 percent said the city is headed right direction, 34 percent said wrong track. By a large margin (55 percent), residents of suburban counties also believe that the city will get better in the next five years. 

Residents of the suburban counties give the city glowing ratings as a place to visit; 81 percent give it a good or excellent overall grade. Ninety-six percent say it is a good or excellent place for historical sites and landmarks, 94 percent for arts and culture, 92 percent for spectator sports and 90 percent for food and restaurants. Only as a place to shop does the city get a less than stellar mark, with 64 percent rating it good or excellent for that purpose.

But suburbanites are not nearly as enthusiastic about Philadelphia as a place to live. Thirty-nine percent rate it a good or excellent place in that regard while 56 percent rate it “only fair” or poor. Asked what they would tell someone thinking of moving to the city, 42 percent say they would recommend in favor of such a move. The rest are split between recommending against a move or offering no recommendation either way. Thirteen percent think it is very or somewhat likely that they will move to the city in the next 10 years or so.

As for the relationship between suburb and city, suburbanites see the futures of their communities and that of Philadelphia as intertwined. Eighty-six percent describe the city's economy as important to the economy of the region; 78 percent say that the social and economic conditions in the city are important to them; 65 percent say that Philadelphia is important to their own quality of life; 78 percent would like to see city and suburban officials work together to address regional issues.

On almost every question, the city gets higher ratings from commuters, the wealthy and the young and lower ratings from those who rarely visit, from low-income suburbanites and the elderly. For the most part, those who have more frequent contact with Philadelphia tend to have a more positive impression of it. 

“From the city's viewpoint, this may be one of the most gratifying findings, the evidence that, for suburbanites, to know the city is to like it,” said Larry Eichel, project director of Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative.  “At the same time, when you compare the poll results with similar surveys done in the past, you see evidence that suburban residents as a group feel a greater sense of separation from the city than they once did.”

In the current poll, for instance, 42 percent say they use “Philadelphia” or “the Philadelphia area”—as opposed to descriptions that do not include the city's name—to describe where they live when asked by someone from outside the region. An average of 50 percent chose the Philadelphia options in surveys conducted between 1996 and 1998. Now as then, residents of the Pennsylvania suburbs are far more likely than those of South Jersey to refer to Philadelphia in explaining to outsiders where they live.

Today's suburban residents express less pride in being identified with Philadelphia than in past surveys. Sixty percent of them say they are very or somewhat proud to be so identified, compared to an average of 69 percent between 1998 and 2000. They also say they come to the city less often—42 percent of them report visiting more than once a month (including work trips) compared to 48 percent a decade ago.

How the study was conducted

The Philadelphia Research Initiative survey was conducted by telephone between November 15 and November 22 among a sample of 801 individuals, ages 18 and older, residing in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania and Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties in New Jersey. Reflecting the overall population of the suburbs, about two-thirds of those polled were from the Pennsylvania counties and one-third from the New Jersey counties. Interviews were conducted with 721 landline users and 80 cell phone users to reach a broad representative sample.

The final sample was weighted to reflect the demographic breakdown of the suburban region. The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/- 3.5 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, recording error and respondent error.

Abt SRBI Public Affairs designed the survey and conducted all interviewing, working with Cliff Zukin, veteran pollster and director of the public policy program at Rutgers University.

The numbers from the years 1995 to 2000 come from polls conducted for Greater Philadelphia First, a business-promotion group that no longer exists. Those surveys employed the same definition of the suburbs as the Pew poll did, including the four counties in Pennsylvania plus the three in New Jersey.