Philadelphia is used to criticism. From its yearly run as one of America’s fattest cities to its constant mocking in the media, the city is often bullied.
But when harsh criticism comes from the city’s residents, it may hurt a little more.
Philadelphia has been ranked America’s least physically attractive city in a poll from Travel + Leisure magazine and CNN Headline News. Out of 25 urban destinations in the U.S., visitors and residents alike said Philadelphians are just uglier.
“[When] you’re walking down the street, your head doesn’t turn a lot,” said sophomore BTMM major Adrienne Nardella.
The survey separates the visitors’ and residents’ rankings of the cities in eight subject areas, ranging from cityscape to shopping. Though there is a variation of opinions between visitors and residents, both strongly agree Philadelphians are unattractive.
The results of the report, however, should not be taken too seriously, said Dr. David Elesh, a sociology professor who teaches the course People and Places in Philadelphia. He said there are some holes in the information gathering.
“Often in these magazines, they don’t tell you the methodology of the survey,” Elesh said. “[This survey] is done as a survey of readers . . . and it ends up that it’s a highly self-selected group of people.”
Therefore, only those who have a more critical opinion of the survey questions would respond, he said.
“These polls from the readers are not worth the paper they were printed on,” Elesh said.
But that doesn’t mean locals will take the results lightly. Dr. Joe Goldblatt, a senior lecturer in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, said the survey is more than an attack on Philadelphians’ physicality – it is also a comment on vanity.
“One of the most disturbing factors in the article is the obvious bias against persons who do not exhibit what is perceived to be average or normal body weight,” Goldblatt said. “Historically, persons who exhibited rubenesque body shapes are deemed exquisitely beautiful and much desired.”
Goldblatt said he thought the fallacious and salacious survey mislabeled the city as America’s ugliest.
But being attractive isn’t the only category Philadelphia flunked. Though that was one of the only categories to make news, Philadelphians also ranked themselves last in safety and cleanliness.
Visitors agreed to some extent, ranking Philadelphia 23rd in safety and 22nd in cleanliness. In safety, visitors ranked Los Angeles 24th and New Orleans 25th. In cleanliness, New York City made No. 23, with Los Angeles and New Orleans keeping the same spots as in the safety category.
Though the media found the attractiveness issue more newsworthy, Elesh said the overall results of the survey don’t help the city’s appeal. But Philadelphia has made up for it, he said.
“Philadelphia has been active in the past few years promoting itself,” Elesh explained. “In the past, they didn’t have any organization effectively doing that. There are many efforts now to put Philly’s name on the map.”
The organization Elesh referenced is the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. The mission of the non-profit organization founded in 1996 is to make Philadelphia and its suburbs “a premier destination through marketing and image building that increases business and promotes the region’s vitality,” according to its Web site.
Calling the report inaccurate,
GPTMC spokesperson Anthony Malerba said his organization was surprised and disappointed with the results of the survey. But Malerba said the survey won’t have a strong impact on the city’s image.
“We’ve taken it in stride,” Malerba said. “It has knocked us down but we got back up.”
Malerba said he doesn’t expect the report to hurt tourism in the city. Tourism has been on the rise in Philadelphia in recent years.
In 2006, more than 26 million people visited the Delaware Valley, generating nearly $10 billion for the city, according to statistics from the GPTMC. Therefore, the city earns about $28 million dollars a day from tourism.
“Philadelphia has so much to offer,” Malerba said. “Its beyond history. Its nightlife, its shopping, its dining.”
After living in the city for a few years, Temple students had much to say about the results of Travel + Leisure’s survey.
“I think it has something to do with how we’re one of the fattest cities,” said sophomore communications major Bryan Zebleckes. “Unattractiveness goes hand-in-hand.”
But when it comes to Temple, Zebleckes said he’s pretty satisfied.
“The shirts that are [in the bookstore] say it pretty well: ‘Temple Girls are the Best in the World,'” he said.
Sophomore theater major Blaise Mannino explained how the results of the survey could apply to people on Temple’s campus.
“Some people try really hard to dress up every day, and some people look like they crawled out of a sewer,” she said.
Native New Yorker Alec Loftus said overall, New York City and his new Philadelphia home are pretty comparable.
“I don’t really see a difference [between the cities],” the sophomore political science major said. “I don’t really think Philadelphia is any uglier.”
But respondents to the survey disagree. Overall, New York City was ranked No. 9 in attractive people.
When it comes to safety both in the city and on campus, many students said having street smarts is necessary.
“In the city, you just need to know where to go,” Zebleckes said.
Zebleckes described the city as “dirty as hell” and said workers need to clean up areas like JFK Plaza and Fairmount Park, locations that “can look a lot better than they do.”
“I think SEPTA kind of demonstrates [the cleanliness of Philadelphia],” Loftus said, noting the unpleasant sights and smells of the buses and subways.
But compared to other campuses within city limits, Temple has an advantage in terms of the campus look, Zebleckes said.
“If you go to Drexel’s or Penn’s campus, they’re dirtier than ours,” he said. “I think we do a pretty good job [of keeping it clean].”
However, Elesh said residents are more critical on the looks of their city because they live in areas travelers don’t visit. Therefore, travelers have a skewed image of actual cleanliness.
“Most people who visit Philadelphia never leave Center City,” he said. “You have a Center City organization downtown that keeps the city pretty clean.”
Though Philadelphia did not make No. 1 in any of the 56 categories in the report, the city did rank in the top 10 of every category in the culture subject area. Both visitors and residents agreed that the city’s historical sites, museums and theater scene are better than most metropolitan areas.
Despite what the survey says, many Philadelphians – permanent residents and students alike – are accepting of the city they call home. And they should be, Goldblatt pointed out, because Philadelphia still has potential.
“Philadelphia is the home of one of the world’s great princesses, Grace Kelly of Monaco,” Goldblatt said. “Indeed, we are capable of producing beautiful people of all colors and all sizes.”
Chris Stover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.