1.12.10

Pittsburgh in a Nutshell.



For most of you who know me, you know that I live in an area of Pittsburgh known as Squirrel Hill.  I guess I never really thought about it, but it is a rather strange name for a neighborhood. If you have never been to Pittsburgh, you probably have no idea of what the city is like.  Many people still think that Pittsburgh is the dusty, dirty, city that it once was during the height of steel production.  Well, it is no more.  Most of the mills were torn down and the city has been redeveloped into a much cleaner, technology driven city.

Pittsburgh is large city with a small town mentality.  Even though  our downtown is not huge, the total greater metro area covers quite a large space.  We are a city of neighborhoods.  In the past, each neighborhood was settled by different ethnic groups and classes of people.  For example, the Bloomfield area of the city was once settled by Germans and then by Italians.  It is often called the "Little Italy" area of Pittsburgh. Shadyside and the 5th ave. area were once the residence of millionaire steel and coal barons and a lot of the old mansions still line the streets.

For most of us that grew up here, or near here, its a place that seems to keep us here.  I know a ton of Pittsburghers who never left here.  We all bitch about the weather, the long dreary winters and the cold wet spring and fall.  We all complain about the traffic and the lack of stuff to do in the winter, but we never seem to leave.  I have been to a ton of places around the U.S. (and Europe) and I have to admit that Pittsburgh is a very friendly and affordable city!  It isn't the most progressive city when it comes to culture.  We have our fair share of it.  We have the arts and tons of good restaurants, but in the winter it can become a bit monotonous. Our location makes it nice.  We are can be in DC in four hours or Philly in six.  Toronto is about five hours away and the train to NYC is very convenient.

My neighborhood is very green.  Its like living in a park with big houses and nice manicured lawns.  My friends from Baltimore visited me and commented on how nice it was to be able to walk to things.  Forbes and Murray ave. are the main business district area of my neighborhood and they haven't been inundated by the chain stores yet.  We still have local businesses.  Within a five minute walk from my house, I can get to probably ten restaurants (good ones, like Thai,Jewish, Korean, Indian, and Vietnamese).  We still have a local movie theater that shows art films as well as four or five coffee shops and local boutique type clothing stores.   I go to other cities and it feels like everything is the same.  The same Gap and Banana Republic on every corner, the same boring chain restaurants nestled among generic cookie cutter "mcmasnsions" made of drywall that have as much character as a shoebox.

There seems to be a general movement in the world to want to make everything the same.  Its even happening in Europe.  No more local stores.  Lets rip them down and build a Walmart!  Who needs good ethnic restaurants when we can have McDonald's, and TGI Friday?  Clothes?  Who needs boutique shops with good quality when we can just close them all and build a Gap.  Lets all look the same, eat the same, dress the same.  Tear down the old houses and put up cheap prefab garbage with no imagination or character to them.  I find it hard to believe that people are happy with this, but I suppose they are.

Pittsburgh seems to be just starting this process. Thankfully we have an ordinance that keeps stores like Walmart OUT of the city.  You will not find one single Walmart within the Pittsburgh city limits.  I have noticed a lot of chain retail and restaurants starting though.  Walnut street in Shadyside used to be a lot more bohemian back in the day.  When I moved here 20 years ago, Walnut St. had a great jazz restaurant and lots of little local stores. One day, the jazz place closed and turned into a Pottery Barn and soon, Banana Republic, the Gap, Beneton, and a whole slew of other chain stores began to replace the old boutiques.  Now, Walnut has been converted into a generic, bland, street that can be found pretty much anywhere in the U.S.  It's sad.

Even though some of this is happening, we as Pittsburghers as a whole, still love our old neighborhoods.  We still impede progress, as we are told, by stopping Walmart from bulldozing everything in site.  We love our old neighborhood restaurants and local shops.  I hope that it continues that way!

1 comment:

  1. Michael, I love your blog!!!! Very informative, well written, and it took me back in time in a delightful manner! I hated Pittsburgh when I first arrived in the 60's. It wasn't long thereafter, however, that I grew to fall in love with the place. My favorite music to this day is jazz, and some of the best is there and came from there. I also love to eat, and Pittsburgh, in my opinion, has some of the most fabulous restaurants in the world...and I've been to a lot of places! My times were some of my most joyful memories. We were "the city of champions." I did a lot of volunteer work for the Pirates (Willie Stargell's foundation) and the Steelers too! Exciting sports could be found no where comparable! No city had what Pittsburgh had when it came to sports, especially in the 70's! The one disagreement I do have with you, however, is the "culture" or as you say the lack thereof. I found Pittsburgh to have more culture than most cities (excluding NY, LA, and SanFrancisco). Back then we had the Pittsburgh Symphony (director was Andre' Previn), the Pittsburgh Ballet, Theater, and Heinz Hall...so much to offer back then! It surprised me completely...this steelmill, blue collar town with so much culture and some of the best of the best. And the education was also tops right along with the medical facilities! Pittsburgh, indeed, had a lot to offer. It was a safe city that one could walk from bar to bar or club to club and never be afraid of being mugged or violated. I modeled clothing back then, and I was completely convinced that Pittsburgh had the most chic', well-dressed men and women on the planet! I have gone back as my friends live in Fox Chapel (they are part owners of the Pittsburgh Penquins), and I've seen the changes. It still seems to be such a wonderful place to live even though it has less sunshine than every city except Seattle! Alas, I do miss it, and it will always bring fond memories to mind as I recall those 20 years I was part of that scene.

    Keep up this blog....as I enjoyed your comments so much!

    Come see me one day in Paradise...the door remains open!

    Linda Lindsay

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