Philadelphia has been gaining traction in the past couple of decades as an attractive alternative to other cities in the Bos-Wash Corridor (that’s the urban conglomeration that runs from Boston to D.C.). More affordable than the nation’s capital, or New York, or Boston, it offers an increasingly pleasing urban experience with its own unique flavor. There’s a reason Philly’s been called “a small town masquerading as a big city.” One of the most popular neighborhoods where this mantra holds especially true in recent times has been the Northern Liberties district. It has an odd name, and one heck of a cool quotient.
In case you were wondering, Northern Liberties was given its title by none other than William Penn. The term comes from liberty land, or free lots, that was available in this section north of Center City. Northern Liberties originally encompassed a much larger area, and was actually one of the larger towns in America at its peak, until becoming part of the city of Philadelphia in 1854. Because of this original separation, Northern Liberties still feels retains a village-like atmosphere within the larger Philadelphia urban area. Its location just outside the city on the waterfront meant that room was available for industrial uses, and NorLibs was long home to mills, breweries, foundries, and the like. Some say that this was Philadelphia’s first suburb; a more dubious distinction is the area’s status as a 19th century red light district.
After the industrial jobs left the neighborhood post-WWII, Northern Liberties entered a period of decline. In 1985, the district received historic district designation in recognition of its beautiful collection of Federal, Italianate, and Greek Revival rowhouses. Not long after, NorLibs started to attract young professionals, students, and artists hungry for affordable spaces with plenty of character. The effect has been a double edged sword: its popularity has attracted a slew of new businesses and improvements, but the rising prices have meant that some of the original pioneers have been pushed out.
In its present incarnation, Northern Liberties is home to an exciting and oh-so-hip selection of boutiques, bistros, markets, and community gathering spots. The Piazza at Shcmidts redevelopment provided the neighborhood with an 80,000 square foot public space that hosts free festivals, concerts, farmers markets, and a theatre-sized flat screen that shows Phillies and Eagles games. The Orianna Hill Park is popular as an off-leash dog sanctuary, while the Liberty Lands park is a successful example of a repurposed, previously toxic Superfund site. Transit makes two stops in the neighborhood as part of the Market-Frankford El. Like the rest of Philadelphia, Northern Liberties offers up plenty of rowhouses, but plenty of condos and apartments have also been added in recent years. Prices can reach upwards of $1,000,000 for a brand new luxury condominium, but rowhouses in the $500,000-$800,00 are more common. Prices bottom out near $250,000 for a modest condo or a total teardown.