Monday, August 22, 2016

Fall in Love with Pittsburgh, PA

When I signed up to do the Pennsylvania post on this virtual tour of the United States, I decided to talk about one place I think everyone should visit. A place I'm an expert and a novice on all at once. The place that makes my soul soar and my heart sing. That place is the former steel Titan of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

My family is Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh is my family. I mean that in the most honest and true way possible. My grandfather is second generation born in the US. He was born in Pittsburgh. This only happened because US Steel, his future employer, employed his grandfather. He lost his arm in an accident at work. So they paid him and he brought the rest of his family over from now-Slovakia.

We've been here since.

Every generation of my family has at least one member who works for or with US Steel. From my great-great-grandfather to my cousin who works at US Steel's Pittsburgh headquarters now. Our grandfather was on the crew that rolled the specialty steel sheets that cover the building he works in every day. This is normal here.

Photo credit: Joseph Guzy

Pittsburgh isn't a fancy place. We've been known for hard-nosed football and sandwiches covered in coleslaw and French fries for too long to pretend otherwise. No one signed the Declaration of Independence here. We were never the capital of the United States. And for decades the steel production industry left its mark on the environment in the worst way possible.

But that was then.

Now, during the year Pittsburgh is coincidentally celebrating its bicentennial, we are one of the fastest growing American cities. 

Steel plants have been converted into robotics labs by infamous Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh research programs. Google has a home in the old Nabisco factory. There is also a prototyping lab in that complex, aptly named Bakery Square, where makers can tinker for fun or profit. Our museums are growing, bursting at the seams with new visitors. We have America's most cost-friendly ballpark according to tripadvisor and baseball's best organization according to Baseball America in 2015. The cost of living is affordable, the neighbors are more than welcoming in most places as our appearances on lists like most livable and LGBTQ friendly illustrate. And most recently the food scene has exploded with Andrew Zimmer calling the Steel City one to watch for foodies.  

A city that in 2000 looked to be all but finished has turned it around. But how? Because of the people. 

I often say here in Pittsburgh we are a city that never got the memo that we are a city. People here in many places know everyone on their street. There are neighborhoods that look like they belong in the 60's complete with the old style signs outside the barbershop and glass coke bottles in their fridges. There are still corner stores where you buy assorted "penny" candy that they put in a little brown bag. They're not trying to be vintage or hipster either, that's just who they've been for so long it's part of the culture. In a time when being old or "vintage" is cool again Pittsburgh has that going for it.

The architecture of everything from the original Fort Pitt structure to the first jail and courthouse scream old while new is retrofitted on every corner by the many local college graduates who come for one of the half a dozen higher education institutions, fall in love and never leave.

 Photo credit: Joseph Guzy

We've found a way, in the past 16 years, to simultaneously honor what came before while embracing the future. That's what makes this place truly special. 

Last year, I toured an art gallery specializing in art from a particular neighborhood of Pittsburgh known as the North Side or Allegheny City. There, they used new technology to help restore and preserve photos from their neighborhood. They used this technology to put the bright, accurate colors of a neighborhood street into a black and white photo displayed prominently in their gallery.  
And just because we're not fancy doesn't mean we aren't proud. There are shirts that say City of Champions on every corner while one that reads "Is this heaven? No it's Pittsburgh" is sold on a popular local T-shirt site. 

We hold the distinction of being the only major North American city where all of our professional sports teams wear the same colors. This unity runs beyond a sport or team but to the city itself as the black and gold color scheme was chosen off of the city's official flag. There is a reason most of the bridges in my city are painted gold. And yes, that's another thing to love about this crazy city. The "City of Bridges" does, in fact, have more bridges than Venice, Italy. 

 Photo credit: Joseph Guzy

Come to Pittsburgh and you'll see it all from polka bands to food trucks selling fresh sushi. Because in this town, like our signature Primanti Brothers sandwiches, we really just love to put things together you didn't know you wanted together until they were put together. That's what Pittsburgh is too, the city you didn't know you were in love with until it was too late to stop. But don't worry, the city will love you right back.  

About the Author
Leah M. Blasko is a life long Pennsylvanian. She was born in Pittsburgh when she was named after the Donnie Iris song. She graduated in 2013 with a bachelors in Public Relations from The Pennsylvania State University. Currently, she works for Little League International, writes about Hockey and covers Pittsburgh City Life for "The Point of Pittsburgh." 

Find me on Social Media: 
@seeyaleah on Twitter 
@seeyaleah_13 on Instagram 

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