Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part VII)

Today's topic: Regional geography.

After seven years in Pittsburgh, I am just starting to get the hang of local geography, which means that when the local news mentions an event somewhere, I actually have some sense of where that is. Pittsburgh (the City) has lots and lots of neighborhoods (I'd quote a number, but someone would correct me -- so I'll just wait for this particular debate to break out (again) in the Comments), many of which were once independent towns. Beyond the city limits, Allegheny County has lots and lots of governments, which would be difficult enough to keep track of if names and boundaries followed a sensible system -- but names of boroughs and townships and municipalities may or may not overlap with names of school districts, or of Postal Service zip codes, or even with common sense. (Perhaps in the Comments someone with a good, concise knowledge of local government can explain the differences among a borough, and a township, and a municipality. Where I come from (California), everyone just lived in towns.)

But the important point for newscomers is this: People who live here tend to assume that everyone already knows where everything is. Traffic lights on Fifth Avenue, as it passes through Shadyside, now include street signs to mark the major cross-streets. My understanding is that putting up signs to tell people the names of the streets was controversial when it was done -- and that this was sometime during the last decade. Is that right? I lived in Iowa for a while, a state that has its own share of little towns. When the Des Moines Register -- then a statewide newspaper -- published a story about news in some little town, it included a helpful little map that located the town on a graphic of the state. Don't expect the Post-Gazette to do anything similar, for Allegheny County or any of its neighbors.

Our multiplicity of place has more important implications than knowing where everyone is. My friend Chris Briem has assembled this useful primer on regional government, which makes the case that the Pittsburgh region has nearly 1000 local governments. Pittsburgh City and Allegheny County governments are only the tips of a very large iceberg. That's a lot, and it supports the argument (by some) that the Pittsburgh economy could move ahead more effectively if we had fewer.

UPDATE: Susanna's pointer to "Wexford does not exist" (does too!) deserves a place in this post.

Previous installments:

Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part VI)
Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part V)
Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part IV)
Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part III)
Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part II)
Welcome to Pittsburgh (Part I)


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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.

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