Neighborhood Guide: Washington Square and Society Hill

Washington Square is one of the five original parks William Penn laid out in his new city of Philadelphia, way back in the 1600s. The idea was to have a hushed little oasis where urbanites could escape chaotic city life.

“It’s like a backyard. It’s laid back, it’s not ‘see and be seen,’” says Gayle Christiansen, who works for Project H.O.M.E. and rents an apartment a few blocks from the park in Washington Square West, or “Wash West.”

Wash West is, appropriately, the neighborhood immediately west of the park, running from Seventh to 13th streets and from South to Chestnut, though realtor Antonio Atacan of Keller Williams Center City divides even that small area into two sections: swankier Washington Square up to 11th, and then cheaper Wash West making up the rest.

To keep it confusing, the area also includes two overlapping ’hoods: the Gayborhood and Midtown Village, both filled with trendy shops, restaurants and bars.

On the other side of the park, going down to Front Street and between Walnut and Lombard, is Society Hill.

“Society Hill is more Boston. Washington Square is more New York,” says Atacan, a Society Hill resident. “There are tiny blocks in Society Hill that feel like you’re in the suburbs. In Washington Square, you’re in the middle of the action.”

That action attracts a younger, hipper crowd — who probably couldn’t afford Society Hill anyway. “If a buyer wants to spend $400,000, in Society Hill they might find a tiny condo, if that,” Atacan says. “In Washington Square, $400,000 can get you something bigger and more modern.”


With its high-rise apartments, restaurants and laundromats, Wash West is attractive to younger residents who are looking to rent in the area. “It’s post-student, pre-homeownership,” explains Christiansen. “It seems like there are a lot of renters here, and then the next stop is buying.”

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