Pittsburgh is not what you thought...

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

There's a certain west coast city (that I've never had the opportunity to visit) that everyone talks about like it's a mythical Valhalla for urbanists. "There is light rail transit! The housing is so dense! The natural setting is so beautiful!" Now, I don't want to rail on Portland. Like I said, I've never been there, but I have to wonder, after having spent a day now in Pittsburgh: why is Portland so admired and Pittsburgh so demeaned? It's almost exactly same size. Pittsburgh's got the light rail. It's denser then Portland (2,100 to 1640 people per square kilometer). It's got a super cool location. It's even got better universities (Carnegie Mellon is rated 23rd in the country, one worse then Berkeley and one better then Georgetown). So why doesn't anybody know that? Is it all just the way that cities market themselves? Or is it age? Do Americans prefer a newer city?

Anyways, I'm enjoying my time here. The city's got good neighborhoods. Personally I like things a little bit skeezy, which Pittsburgh definitely has down. One thing I really like is that it's the sort of place that can have total dive bars and designer clothing stores on the same block. There's a good mix of shops and people. The residential architecture is mostly little, fairly undistinguished, but nice, rowhouses.

One of the best things is the location. It's kind of perched on the sides of a bunch of littlish mountains (more then Duluth, but less then Hong Kong). So basically, people just plopped houses wherever they could find enough flat land. There are these blocks where people have a huge cliff as a back yard, which gives it a lot of character.

Oh, and I finally did find a part of town that smelled (for reference: worse then East St. Paul, better then Gary, Indiana).

Today I basically wandered around neighborhoods. I like the South Side Flats a lot and the Mexican War Streets. Downtown is pretty nice. Oakland was kind of generic. Station Square sucks. The gate for the Pirate's stadium was open, so I wondered in and looked around. It seems really nice.

I also went to the Andy Warhol museum. It was pretty impressive. Warhol's images are so common that I don't think I ever really appreciated them before. When you are right in front of them, you can't help but be struck by both the scale and coloring. Its all so vulgar but beguiling. They also had a cool exhibit of Bruce Nauman, who works entirely in neon lights. My eyes didn't go back to normal for quite a while, but it was pretty cool.

Tomorrow, I'm going to see Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.


Ryan 9:36 PM  

I haven't heard anything but positive statements about Pitt in at least five years. Portland isn't at all dense, but it has the reputation because the city government is being proactive about smart growth, local businesses flourish better than most places in the US, and the residents are far more likely than those in other similar cities to walk, bike, and take public transit. It looks almost exactly like Minneapolis, except pretend the parking lots are single-story storefronts instead.

I'd like to go to Pitt sometime. I like cities with hills. I heard KC has hills too. Can you confirm this?

You should drive out to Braddock (10 miles out of the city limits i think) and see if it's the hipster urban paradise that Readymade said it is.

onetenchelsea 9:45 PM  

I've only driven through KC, but I wasn't impressed from the highway.

I can't find Braddock on the map. Do you know where it is?

Ryan 10:50 PM  


Looks like it's east on I-396

heather 11:03 PM  

I grew up in Pittsburgh and enjoyed it very much. My neighborhood was Highland Park, but I also went to schools all over the city because of mandatory busing, magnet schools, and all that, which led to more city discovery. My high school was kind of on the border between the Hill District and Oakland. The Hill is where August Wilson based just about all of his plays, and there was always a rumor that it's where "Hill Street Blues" was supposed to be based but I never found out for sure.

I understand East Liberty is an interesting place to check out these days, while in my day it was considered a place to avoid (not that I did... it was walkable from my house and that's where we did our grocery shopping). It's the neighborhood where the Whole Foods is now and a Home Depot; you might be interested to see how well those are integrated (or not, let us know).

Also be sure to visit Bloomfield and Lawrenceville if you get a chance. And have you been to the Strip District? You've gotta stop at Primanti brothers for a legendary sandwich.

One of my favorite things about the city is all the bridges across the rivers. Especially between the North Side and downtown.

In Oakland the library and museum are worth a look, along with the international rooms in the Cathedral of Learning.

People sure did build on the hills like crazy. Underneath some of the hills are empty mines. There have been problems with house collapses related to the hollow ground underneath, I remember that happening in the Hill District particularly.

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