top of page

The Key to PHL

by Katie Hanford

The kid brother of the East Coast, Philadelphia’s arts and entertainment scene has grown at a fast pace, especially in the last 10 to 20 years. DIY and other up-and-coming musicians have realized Philly is an ideal place to call home for many reasons, some of which include its affordable cost of living and geographic proximity to other East Coast cities.

Mannequin Pussy, Lucy Dacus and Japanese Breakfast all relocated to Philly within the last 10 years [1]

Are you a young creative looking to move? As a musician and current Philadelphia resident, let me show you around. This piece will serve as a guide to help young musicians find the best place to live.

There are a few things you’ll want to consider before settling down here:

  • Housing affordability

  • Getting around the city

  • Neighborhood feel/composition

  • Job availability and location

  • Proximity to venues


Let’s get into it!


Source: ACS 2021 Data, 5-Year Subject Tables [3]

Finding affordable housing is the first step to getting settled in your new home. Thankfully, Philadelphia’s rent prices are relatively affordable compared to other cities in the Northeast, like New York, Boston, or Washington DC.

Map 1 features units with rents under $600 per month per bedroom, a measure that considers the average service industry income and accounts for housing burden. Unfortunately, 1-bedroom apartments rarely meet this mark, so this map takes studios, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, 3-bedroom and 4-bedroom units into account.

The downside of a house with multiple bedrooms –  you’ll need roommates to keep costs low. Join a Facebook group for housing to find like-minded roommates to lower your rent costs [2]. Multiple-bedroom units also typically have basements - free space to create in your own home!

Affordable rent can only come if there are available places to rent. Areas shown on this map feature rental vacancy rates above 2 percent. The areas highlighted in yellow are where the two criteria – rents under $600 and unit vacancies - overlap, showcasing affordable and rentable areas in Philadelphia.


Source: ArcGIS Hub SEPTA Routes (2022) [4]

Getting around Philadelphia easily and affordably is crucial to creating a life here. Map 2 shows which SEPTA routes – Philly’s public transit system – have stops in the city’s most “rentable” areas. The city’s bike network is highlighted in blue, as cycling is another affordable and easy way to traverse Philly’s many neighborhoods.  If living in any of the “rentable” areas, a combination of walking, biking and public transit will get a traveler anywhere in the city they would want to go.


Source: ACS 2021 Data, 5-Year Subject Tables

As a young creative living in Philadelphia, you’ll want to build a network of like-minded friends with whom to share your passions. Because of Philly’s density and culture, you’ll likely get to know your neighbors and neighborhood as time goes on. Map 3 highlights rentable neighborhoods where at least 15% of the population is within the 21-35 year-old age range.


Sources: Philadelphia’s Business Licenses Data, OpenDataPhilly [5]

Service industry jobs are popular ways to make money among musicians in Philadelphia. The potential for part-time work (with tips) gives creatives flexibility in their schedule and a steady income by which to support themselves as they get their musical careers off the ground. 

The first layer of Map 4 is a heatmap showing occurrences of businesses with a “restaurant” license, which covers a broad array of service-oriented work, including restaurants, coffee shops, fast food joints, bars that serve food, etc. laying data of rentable areas over locations that have a significant population of young people elucidates the top three rentable areas that have the highest concentration of possible jobs for musicians in Philly. Why wouldn’t you want to live near work? 

The second layer of Map 4 considers venue access as a crucial aspect of your ideal neighborhood. Although Philadelphia is home to a number of mid- to large-scale venues, this map displays independent small-scale venues, including bars with music and informal event spaces, like homes and warehouses that host shows. These spaces are ideal for new-in-town musicians to start booking shows. Why not live near them to make it easier to get your name out there?


The final step in picking the ideal location to live is taking a closer look at the chosen spot!

Census tract 148 (shown in yellow on the map) proves to be the ideal place to live, based on the six criteria considered thus far: affordable rent prices per bedroom, rental availability, SEPTA and bike route accessibility, a relatively high percentage of young people, a high concentration of service businesses (and jobs) in the area and the best access to venues, indicated by the 1- and 2-mile walksheds shown on the map. This neighborhood is east of Brewerytown, a popular area just northwest of Center City.  
Let’s look at some neighborhood stats: 

$270     Average rent per bedroom

4.5%      Rental vacancy rate

18%        People ages 21-35 

3, 61       SEPTA bus routes

457         Service businesses 

Congratulations on finding your new place to live and happy apartment hunting!

About the Author: Katie Hanford

Katie (she/her) is a first-year Master of City Planning student concentrating in Housing, Community and Economic Development. Katie is interested in the intersection of culture, power, and community-led design, specifically how communities come together to create urban space that fits their needs.


[1] “Japanese Breakfast - Union Transfer Show Poster.” Facebook, August 15, 2021. Bill PearisPublished: March 1, 2022. “Courtney Barnett Announces Rescheduled North American Dates.” BrooklynVegan.; “Mannequin Pussy: The Deli Magazine.” Mannequin Pussy | The Deli Magazine. 

[2]“Philadelphia Affordable Housing, Rooms, Apartments, Sublets.” Facebook. 


[3] 2021 ACS Data, 5-Year Subject Tables


[4] “DVRPC Open Gis Data.” DVRPC Open GIS Data, OpenDataPhilly. 


[5] “Licenses and Inspections Business Licenses.” OpenDataPhilly, September 22, 2016. 

bottom of page