Cliché-sounding statement number one: Philadelphia is a lovely city. I've lived here most of my life. Until recently, home was a tiny fifth-floor walk-up on 8th Street between Pine and Lombard. Out my back window were steeples of the churches where George Washington worshiped and Richard Allen preached. Out the front were shiny skyscrapers and the nation's oldest hospital. At least once a week, I'd step outside and meet someone who asked for directions to Pat's and Geno's, South Philly's famous cheesesteak vendors. Today, I live near those stands, farther from the historic sites, but closer, to my mind, to the heart of the city.

No matter how many times Philadelphia gets plugged as America's next great city or New York's extra borough, to me, my hometown will always be defined by its grit and its struggle. Sure, we boast the world-renowned Barnes Foundation and some of the United States's most pristine historic monuments. Yes, we have a gaggle of celebrity chefs and a hallowed Ivy League university and burgeoning classes of artists and sophisticates. Still, there's a reason we head for cheesesteaks first, culture second. There's a reason why visitors (and locals) feel compelled to jog up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rocky-style. Philly, to anyone who's been or visited here feels, first and foremost, like a city of hard work and dreams and struggles -- and therefore really, deeply, truly American. That's why we call it "Philly."

What's best (again, to me) about this city is its mix of old and new, rich and poor, grit and glitz. The best way to explore the city is to embrace its differences. In Philly, you can do it all, and that's a lovely thing.

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