Ten months ago, three days before Christmas, my wife and I moved into our new (old) home in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. Throughout our first year here, I’ve often thought about writing about our experience as new residents. Honestly, though, I haven’t known what I want to say. My history with the neighborhood goes back nearly 20 years—first as 20-something bar-goer, and then as a community development professional. (To be completely honest, there was some overlap between the two!) Professionally, I spent half a decade here in my first “real job” doing my part to contribute to a community that I came to adore. Even though I hadn’t lived here, it felt like my place in Pittsburgh.
Fast forward 10 years and we found ourselves looking for a home. The South Side moved on and off of our prospective neighborhood list. But then, last spring, we had a meal at Dish Osteria and Bar in its last week of business. We observed an all-out love affair between Dish and its long-time patrons. The restaurant was going on a long hiatus, but its regulars would not let Dish go quietly. They gathered to share in exceptional food and company with such a spirit that it could have been their neighborly last supper. This neighborhood was something I wanted to be part of (again).
As I type this, I have to say the reason I’ve not written sooner is that I don’t yet feel part of the South Side I witnessed that night. Being a newcomer reminds me that it takes time to break into a community. And there’s some effort involved. I remember discussing a “culture of hospitality” with a woman in Kentucky last year, while there on a project. She said that she was taught “not to wait to be made felt welcome.” The idea is to invite yourself into a space and to proactively seek out opportunities and relationships. In the words of another woman I know—don’t be afraid to take up your space. I’ve made a sporadic effort of breaking in and hope to alter this as my schedule slows down a bit this winter.
So this is where I am in relationship to the South Side I once knew. But there’s more! We’re loving our 1900 home and our little subsection of the neighborhood. We live in a hollow that is known for its Slovak roots (part of my own heritage). The neighbors are friendly, and it’s the kind of place where several members of the same family live on the same block, which mirrors the way I grew up. We’re also enjoying the increased mobility that has come along with this move. We can be to the river and trail by bike in under five minutes. And we can walk to 18th and Carson in 20-25 minutes. Something we didn’t have in our past living situations has been a walkable, bikeable community. I love that I can walk to the dry cleaners, the record store, and to tomorrow’s coffee meet up (and my happy hour meet up, too). And that we walked to a movie tonight and can also take in live music and theater. My favorite time in the South Side, though, is the morning. When traveling, I love seeing a city as it wakes up. I feel the same way walking down Carson and Sarah streets in the morning.
I took some time to walk Carson Street on this morning, 10 months after moving day. Years ago, through my work here, I sometimes led architecture tours in support of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. The only two words I remember from the entire script are “Look up.” The idea was to encourage tour goers to look to the upper stories to appreciate the Victorian architecture. I found myself looking up today (and sometimes down). Besides the lovely buildings, I saw some of my favorite murals, hand sewn “VOTE” signs at the library, and glass mosaic and pigeon footprints in what was once wet cement. I was delighted to notice these details by foot and to be able to say this is again my place in Pittsburgh, this time as a resident.