Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part III)

Today's topic: Crossing the Rivers

Growing up in California, I used to watch Steeler-Raider games played at something called "Three Rivers Stadium," but I had very little sense of Pittsburgh geography. But there are, of course, three major rivers here: The Allegheny, the Monongahela, and their product: the Ohio. The rivers are fundamental to Pittsburgh in all sorts of ways, but one of those is hidden to outsiders and reveals itself only gradually: People don't cross the rivers very often.

If you live in the North Hills, virtually all of your identity as a Pittsburgher -- recreation, socializing, casual errands, schools, church -- is tied up with doing things in the North Hills. Ditto for the South Hills; ditto for the City (the boundaries of the City don't correspond to the area between the Allegheny and the Mon, but they nearly do). If you live in the South Hills or North Hills, you rarely venture across the Ohio River to the other suburbs and only occasionally into the city, except to work. If you live in the City, you rarely venture into the North Hills or South Hills.

These are gross generalizations, and there are important exceptions, of course. Lots of people commute into the city from the North Hills and the South Hills. People will make a special effort to come downtown to watch the Steelers, or the Pirates. But when we moved to Pittsburgh, natives warned us: Pittsburghers don't cross the rivers. Bah, we said: we came from California, where people think nothing of driving a hour or more and across a major bridge or two just to have dinner or play a game of softball -- and then drive back afterward. (I also have a lot of family in rural parts of the Middle West, and driving from town to town for socializing, shopping, and recreation -- even county to county -- is pretty typical.) We'll have friends all over Pittsburgh, and we'll see them and they'll see us and everyone will be comfortable driving wherever we want to be. We needed an accountant and we found a good one in the North Hills (even though we live in the South Hills), and we thought: well, that's an ordinary thing to do.

Except that several years later, almost all of our friends are in the South Hills. We don't use that accountant any longer. We don't go to the North Hills and we don't really know our way around up there. Everything we need is close by in the South Hills (restaurants, parks, friends, shopping), and what we can't find here (better restaurants, more diverse shopping), we find in the City. If I venture east beyond Churchill, say, it's only because I'm on my way to the Turnpike; if I venture west beyond Bellevue, it's only because I'm showing off Sewickley to a visitor from out of town.

I'm not sure why this is. Maybe some of it has to do with deep, collective psychological responses to Pittsburgh's hilly geography. Some of it must have to do with our close-knit neighborhoods and communities, encouraging us to rely on nearby resources and in a variety of ways breeding suspicion of others. (High school football rivalries encourage this!) There's our mediocre transportation system (the subject of a future post), which doesn't make it easy to get from Point A to Point B anywhere in Pittsburgh and which must encourage us simply to stay put.

Whatever the reason, there is a lesson: When you pick a place to live in Pittsburgh, pick carefully, because other things being equal, your nearby community is going to frame an unexpected amount of your experience here.

Previous installments:

Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part II)
Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part I)


0 Responses to "Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part III)"

Search Pittsblog

About Pittsblog

Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

Comments are moderated.
Subscribe to Pittsblog comments


Blog Archive

Header Background

Header background images licensed from (left image) lemonad and (right image) plaskota under Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 2.0 Generic licenses.


Copyright 2003-2010 Michael J. Madison - WP Theme by Brian Gardner - Blogger Blog Templates, ThemeLib.com