Philadelphia skyline, May 2021

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If you want to spark never-ending debate, ask Philadelphians to pick the city’s best neighborhood.

That’s what urban planner Autumn Florek is doing with her latest side project: a bracketed tournament that pits 128 Philly neighborhoods against one another, March Madness style. As it plays out on Twitter over the next two weeks, she’s hoping the contest sparks more than just hot takes.

“It starts conversations and makes people think, like, ‘What *does* make a great neighborhood?’ ” Florek said. “And no two people have the same answer.”

The 37-year-old knows this can be a touchy subject. Last month she created a similar tournament for New York City, and it drew heated opinions — not just on the merits of different areas of the city, but over her selections and seeding methodology, which were based solely on her own judgment.

“I got a lot of grief on Twitter because of that,” Florek said, despite spending an “obscene” number of hours thinking it out in advance.

This time, she did seeding according to Walk Score, a real estate company that ranks each neighborhood based on walkability. And at the suggestion of the person behind @SicTransitPHL, she expanded the field, doubling the number of contenders.

The bracket’s four “regions” aren’t based on geography, she clarified, but are divided to be evenly competitive (i.e. so no quadrant is stacked with more potential favorites than another).

Even before the tournament started, people were getting excited and making their predictions for potential winners.

Florek used her personal knowledge of Philadelphia to divvy up the starters. Though she lives in her native Connecticut right now, and only spent a year living in Philly after grad school, she visited as often as she could while studying urban planning at Rutgers.

“It’s my favorite city in North America….my favorite city anywhere,” she said. “I fell in love with it, and one day I want to move back there.”

Her love for Philadelphia is also why she decided to spend a whole weekend designing the tournament, and countless hours over the next few weeks running it. After the NYC endeavor, lots of people started asking for her template, and Florek wanted to own her favorite city.

“I realized, well, somebody is going to think about doing one for Philly, I wanted it to be me,” she said.

Things kick off each day at 5 p.m. with a new set of Twitter polls on the @PlanningAutumn account. People will have until 1 p.m. the next day to vote in each matchup.

Round 1 begins today, and will continue for four days. Starting next week, Rounds 2 to 4 will last two days each. The final three rounds will last one day each, with the championship match starting March 1 and ending the next day at 1 p.m.

What’s the prize? Bragging rights, of course, and hopefully interesting discussion. Plus, Florek is hoping to develop a more creative direction for her career

“I have that artistic mentality so I kind of want to use that,” she said. “So that’s partly a subconscious motivation behind doing this, as well.”

Credit: Courtesy Autumn Florek
Credit: Courtesy Autumn Florek
Credit: Courtesy Autumn Florek
Credit: Courtesy Autumn Florek

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...