I think the Philadelphia area, more than most of its peers, has struggled to define its regional identity as its suburbs and exburbs have grown. Growing up in the Bucks County suburbs, the term “Delaware Valley” was one I heard again and again. Now “Greater Philadelphia” is in vogue, and I hope it sticks. Hidden City Philadelphia has a great piece on the origin of the “Delaware Valley” term:
Where do you live? Is it Philadelphia? Or perhaps somewhere in the Greater Philadelphia region? Or maybe the “Delaware Valley?”
Ah, that nasty “Delaware Valley.” This term has caused much confusion over the past sixty years or so. An uninformed person could think that it referred to the state of Delaware rather than the valley of the Delaware River, which stretches from the Catskills in upstate New York to the Atlantic Ocean, where the Delaware Bay drains between Cape May and Cape Henlopen. Furthermore, other places call themselves Delaware Valley, notably along the upper river. Delaware Valley High School, for example, is in Milford, Pennsylvania. …
The term “Delaware Valley” was not used much before World War II. For example, only a handful of books containing the appellation in their titles had ever been issued. But in 1952 the Philadelphia Inquirer started an annual inset trumpeting the region and its postwar transformation. Published every fall, usually in October, the supplements were called Delaware Valley, U.S.A. They touted the industrial developments of Philadelphia-area companies, as well as governmental developments, namely of federal building projects in the region.
The colorful, semi-glossy and artistically-superior covers of these Inquirer supplements made them really stand out. One issue focused on the building of the Walt Whitman Bridge, while another was devoted to the “Delaware Valley’s Contribution to the Space Age.” Other issues featured stories on the then-rising Society Hill Towers and also Penn Center. The region’s electric distribution system and port facilities along the Delaware River were favorite topics. All were written in the flowery language of that era, and they often referred to the region as simply “the Valley.”
Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, etc. In 2012 I advocated for the Pro-Life Union to change its name from “Pro-Life Union of Southeastern Pennsylvania” to “of Greater Philadelphia.” It’s a change we made because we agreed that the strength of our region flows from the city. The more that the city itself can come to shape our identity and forge a common connection, the better.