Of all 4,000 words in the meandering Forbes encomium titled “How Fishtown, Philadelphia Became America’s Hottest New Neighborhood,” the last line might be the laziest.
“Note to Fishtown,” it reads, “the secret is officially out.”
Note to Forbes: The secret’s been out for a long time. Like, a looong time.
Since this New York Times survey of the “Fishtown district” in 2008, even. Or this 2013 Times profile, complete with video — or this NYT revisit in 2016. Perhaps last year, when this Conde Nast Traveler love letter to the neighborhood came out, or when Business Insider named Fishtown one of the country’s hottest housing markets. If not all those times, than at least the beans were spilled in January, when the Wall Street Journal swooped in for a look.
To its credit, the Forbes feature does capture some of the character of the neighborhood. Contributor Peter Lane Taylor, an established writer whose bio declares that his memories “become more crystal clear every day because forgetting them would be unforgivable,” clearly did a ton of online research — which is the thing.
That’s how the bulk of the piece reads: like something researched online. And not always so thoroughly.
Let’s start with a short Fishtown style guide. When writing about the El, we don’t capitalize the T. It’s just “the El.”
And about using “New Fish” and “Old Fish” to describe the different demographic segments of the area? That’s not a thing, and let’s not try to make it one. (Taylor refers to residents as “fish” so often it feels like he’s about to call Fishtown schoolkids “guppies.”)
Literary devices are used early and often. Taylor sets up conflict in paragraph two by rolling out the “bumping shoulders with the occasional heroin addict,” trope — exactly like the New York Times did 10 years ago. A decade later, it’s still icky to use a neighborhood’s well-documented drug problem for a pithy opening to a lifestyle feature.
As a rebuttal to the claim that “nobody blinks” at the “addicts” and “scrappers”: many of us do blink. We blink all the time.
The third paragraph, on the other hand, references lines “twisting out of” a restaurant that’s now closed — Pizzeria Beddia, which gets two more mentions despite a well-publicized shutdown at the end of March.
Taylor does an ok job listing several other “foodie” destinations — the word is used no less than three times — although expending the amount of space he uses on Johnny Brenda’s is even more repetitive than covering Fishtown itself. The pioneering bar and music venue isn’t just written about a lot, it also regularly shows up in movies, including in a starring role in Creed.
Also, what about any of the restaurants or bars along Girard? Taylor hardly ventured more than three steps off Frankford Avenue for his culinary survey, and only then to shout out much-lauded and recently-embattled Mulherin’s.
Speaking of geography, roughly a third of the way into the article, the author whips out a Google Earth analysis. This is the journalistic equivalent of quoting the dictionary in a term paper, and results in one of the sections that comes off like the writer was trying to hit a required word quota.
Many of those Dickensian sentences form a gushing glorification of Fishtown’s real estate “boom.” Taylor uses the word “boom” five times.
The focus of the piece is on the new and shiny, which means it leaves out most of the neighborhood’s more gritty hangouts, like The El Bar, Kung Fu Necktie, Fishtown Tavern and Interstate Draft House — many of the places where old and new residents actually do come together.
Those are the kind of lived-in establishments that give Fishtown its current texture and character, and are part of what makes the neighborhood so special. Special enough that even Forbes is an avid fan.