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!
Posted by Michael Bell at 9:16 AM