Don't even think of moving here if you don't fall
Hello everyone. I see the rave reviews of Pittsburgh and must comment.
People who live in the Burgh tend to be defensive, so permit me to say:
I’ve lived in Manhattan, Queens, Bklyn, New Haven & Hartford CT, and rural areas in both states. In Pittsburgh I’ve lived in Squirrel Hill (affluent), nearby Greenfield, Bellevue (middle/lower middle class) Turtle Creek (working class). I was a journalist for 25 years, hitting cities in most areas, researching all. I have enjoyed virtually everywhere but here – even considered moving to Arkansas.
Here’s what they leave out of the livability lists:
1) Cost of Living: it's 15.9% lower than average but you'll probably earn at least 15.9 percent less at your job (and probably won't like it if you're boss is UPMC, or so I've been told).
Expenses you don’t consider -- water bills, etc. are obscene, as is what little public transportation exists. The less affluent can't afford to live in the more affordable two-fare zones.
2) Health: Check the cancer rate. Second lowest sunny days in the US, right behind Portland (or Seattle -- I forget). Many more smokers, (cigarettes are dirt-cheap). Paula Dean cuisine. Obesity over 27%. Local specialties: salad topped with French Fries. Kielbasa is a food group. I’m not complaining about the taste, but I’ve gained 30lbs in 3 years despite a rocking metabolism. Eating healthy is costly because Giant Eagle supermarkets are costly and they’re everywhere. Sky-high prices for fruit, veg and meat. btw -- there are pizza places on every corner, but despite tons of Italian Americans you can’t get a decent slice and don't even think about Chinese. I'm just saying.
3) Sports. If you’re crazy for football, fine. If not your opportunities to socialize(or have a passing conversation that interests you) are infrequent.
4) The nicer the neighborhood, the less the diversity (true of many places, but tolerance here seems lower) Fixed ideas re: normality. You can live among the normal elsewhere, yet be perceived as peculiar. Working class suburbs can be xenophobic and I’m not talking about other countries. If you move to Dormont from the other side of the mountain, you’re from out of town.
5) Home prices. I could buy a decent house for $75K in my current neighborhood but if I wanted to sell I'd lose money. The public schools are terrible.
6) Crime: I’m a night person – walk my dogs at 2 am no problem in most places. The crime in Pittsburgh exceeds that of NYC by a large margin and I include areas such as Harlem (which can be a great place to live).
On a particular Sunday (I won’t say average Sunday) the 7/11 blocks from me got held up three times.
7) Driving. I don’t mean traffic. NY has traffic. Here, people that are exceptionally nice on foot turn nasty behind a steering wheel. Try getting on or off the highway, they floor it. They turn left on red lights, don’t always make way for ambulances, and don’t get out of your car on the driver’s side, or drive with your flashers on -- they take it as a challenge. Better to wave a red cape at a bull.
I blame geography. Most sections of highway lack shoulders and there is no alternate side of the street parking on two way streets, leaving skinny little opening in the middle where drives don't hesitate to stop and chat with friends on the sidewalk (fortunately there aren't that many sidewalks).
I don't know why there aren't one way streets. The congestion wouldn’t be noticeably worse – roads are already blocked much of the time for construction because the infrastructure’s falling apart. So many cobblestones. So many hills and mountains with narrow passes, sharp turns and insufficient warning signs. You really need 4-wheel drive.
8) Public transport. Few bus-lines and the fares are higher than average. You might yearn to move to a less costly neighborhood in a two-fare zone, but the price of a bus-pass rules it out for lower income citizens.
9) Demographics. If you’re middle-aged and divorced or your spouse has died, you’re surrounded by families in most areas (I realize lower divorce rates (I think they're lower) are actually a plus, but parents here spend time shuttling their kids to school events, usually athletics. Not as many moms reserve 'my-time' (book clubs, etc.) In up and coming areas where unmarrieds predominate, the average age is young.
10) These up and coming neighborhoods – they really are nice. But places like Regents Square, East Liberty and Lawrenceville grow more and more costly, whereas school districts and crime rates haven't changed.
11) Did I mention the crime rate? I repeat -- check the stats. I mean it. Your odds of being a victim here are very high.
12) Lack of Green Spaces -- shut up about Frick Park, I know how to get there, and the North Hill Parks, too -- a fraction live there. The rest of us haven’t got green space of any size in spitting distance. You would imagine with the pretty hills and mountains that there would be scenic walkways here and there where you could push a carriage or ride a bike. Forget it. Apart from a short stretch downtown along the river, shorelines are inaccessible and horizons are dominated by factories, many of shut down.
Sidenote: the heralded Pittsburgh skyline is indeed beautiful, prettier than New York's, but it is not visible at ground level (see reasons above). Nevertheless, I quite enjoy it when I'm driving over bridges.
13) Football Fanatics (I concede this isn’t always a negative for everyone). But the buses here have flashing lights that say 'Go Steelers.' If you hate football, you'll spend Sundays alone, I tell you!
Okay, some good news for the subsets who might like it in Steelers Country:
Relatively affluent families who can make the mortgage on a house of $250K of more and find a job with a salary equal to their current one will live in a much nicer house in one of the safer school districts.
They will have more disposable income for restaurants, entertainment and weekly visits from the gardener and housekeeper. Not to be sneezed at.
But the rain and snow will pour down on their heads just as often. They won't escape road-rage, weight-gain or crime. Please be aware that the feeling of safety in neighborhoods like Squirrel Hill (where you’ll need $350K for a nice house) is illusory. I'm not saying you can't avoid the dodgy corners if you know where they are. But if you buy a $350K home elsewhere, there's a police presence that's lacking here.
Friendly people. Niceness isn’t an act. If you go to a cocktail party, they take an interest, instead of looking over your shoulder for someone more important to talk football with.
(Personally, I think friendliness is overrated as a livability quotient. Unlike sunshine, you can make friends anywhere, and a couple of dozen is adequate for most people. It’s not all that hard to find that many with a little effort).
So. I've tried not to be too offensive to my fellow locals but I probably haven't tried hard enough. Try to forgive me. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.
They also say go back where you came from. I’d move, but ill-health would make re-employment difficult. I came for a promising job, urged by my best friend. He loves living here and enjoys a much better quality of life than he did in Manhattan, where a nearly seven figure salary doesn’t buy much, relatively.
But that's it, isn't it? Money and demographics. Good move for families with good income. Not so good for the less affluent. You might improve your standard of living slightly as defined by the livability scales but , but take my word. Believe me, ut it won't be nearly enough to offset the drawbacks.
In my opinion.