Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pittsburgh: Shrinking, but still vibrant

So the other day I was all about how, if the one-note dump that is Pittsburgh can regain its footing even as it continues to shrink, so can the one-note dump that is Detroit. In that spirit, it seemed like a good plan to drive on down to the hub of Steeler Nation to track progress. The tour started with coffee at 21st Street, a smart cafe (using Intelligentsia beans) in the city's thriving Strip District market area, which is like Eastern Market, except more compact and way more grimy.

Downtown Pittsburgh - sometimes called The Golden Triangle - is similar in size to Detroit's, a compact area down where the three rivers (Ohio, Monongahela and the Allegheny) meet, occupancy at street level is noticeably better and there is a dearth of parking lots. Here's the Benedum-Trees Building, an appealing piece of the Fourth Avenue streetscape puzzle. On a national holiday, the streets are filled with people walking around. This is probably because the Steelers won the night before.

No matter how hard times were in Pittsburgh, there was always Mt. Washington, and always the Duquesne Incline, which dates back to the 1800's.

The buzz on Pittsburgh today is good, but that doesn't mean it's all sweetness and light around here -- the city's still about half down from it's 1950 high. Neighborhoods like the Hill District, right above downtown, have an eerie emptiness to them. Familiar, much?

Like this. There's plenty of this. The difference is, abandoned buildings aren't everywhere - so many of the city neighborhoods are really packed. Even here in the Hill District, one is reminded that it's not so much about filling up the city again, and more about managing your decline so the city doesn't start to feel like the Wild West. Ahem.

Iron City in bottles at Primanti Bros. - the official beer of the Pittsburgh Nation. A lot of beer being served in bottles up in here. Pffft. Advantage: Detroit.

Yes, Pittsburgh looks pretty good these days, all things considered. The average visitor will have no idea that the city is at half of its peak population.


D-Tales said...

Iron City beer--gross. Primanti Bros.--good.

You know, I like Steel City. I didn't THINK I would (since it had such a wonderful national reputation, not unlike some other cities we could name), but it's actually a really great place. The view downtown, especially coming through the Fort-Pitt tunnel, is STUNNING. And the 16:62 Design Zone is exactly what Detorit needs. Preach on, brother Dave!

mingusal said...

Nice job, and great blog. It's necessary, I think, to keep calling to Detroiters' attentions that their situation is neither as unique nor as hopeless as many seem to think it is. While at the same time reminding them that wearing rose-colored glasses of denial, wallowing around in apocalyptic destruction porn, or playing that blaming game that Detroiters seem to love so, won't fix a damn thing either. Reality is hard, and recognizing reality and dealing with it in a productive way is even harder. Good work.

Woodwards Friend said...

There are few American cities as charming as Pittsburgh. It's on my places to live before I die list.

David said...

Look at all this Pittsburgh love. Proof that you really can fix your reputation - I finished growing up there (rather, I turned 18) in a small town south of the city - coal miner's daughter-ville. to watch how the region's reputation has turned around in less than twenty years is nothing short of amazing.

seriously -- if i can happen there, it can happen anywhere. i avoided posting too much grimness, but there are plenty of areas in town (Hazelwood, Homewood, etc) that look just like Detroit's worst. And yet, the city rises above it and continues to chip away at the old, piece by piece - they now have a Whole Foods in East Liberty, which was one of the worst areas in the city for a long, long time. Go fucking figure.