No. I’m not moving to Pittsburgh. At least not anytime in the near future.
I just thought I should get that out of the way right off since some people have no doubt been wondering about it. We’re buying the house in Pittsburgh as a second home (OK, I guess it’s a third one for Mark…), as a way to get into the housing market there, and as an investment that will probably do better than our respective 401K and IRA plans right now. Aside from being one of my favorite places in the country (more on that in a minute), Pittsburgh is one of only a few places in America right now where home prices are really low but are still appreciating, particularly in the neighborhood we’ve selected. And yes, I could very well see living there full-time at some point in the future; from a career perspective, it’s probably equal to or even better than the Triad for me.
So now on to the bigger and more interesting question of why I would consider a place like Pittsburgh, and how I could assume I might like it better there than, say, San Francisco, given all the relief I felt upon leaving that particular urban area. It’s a valid question, and it’s one that even my husband asked me at one point.
To start, I’m happy in Winston-Salem. I like the area, and I love our house. Yes, the Triad lacks a certain urban excitement, and since one of my favorite hobbies is urban exploration, I sometimes wish there were more “urban” to explore here. But that hobby occupies a relatively small part of my life, and this area fits nicely into most of the other parts; it’s convenient, cheap, and generally a low-stress environment, and I don’t really think I’m missing anything here.
Pittsburgh gives me that “urban” that I crave. I fell in love with the city on my first visit in 1997, and I love it a little more each time I visit. Unlike most sunbelt “boom towns”, the texture is decidedly urban, with a diversity of building types, people, and incomes. Unlike San Francisco and other “sophisticated urban areas”, the mood is neither expensive nor pretentious. And unlike such rust belt icons as Cleveland and Detroit, there’s an actual economy; in fact, Pittsburgh has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
Until about sixty-five years ago, San Francisco and Pittsburgh had similar population numbers. Now, Pittsburgh has fewer than half as many people as San Francisco, which means that the people in Pittsburgh have a lot more room to spread out and get comfortable now. And Pittsburgh has depopulated in a very functional manner; things were rough twenty or thirty years ago, and even today, it’s far from a boom town, but crime and unemployment are both relatively low. Even better, housing costs are really low, which affords the large middle and working class population the chance to live in a place that has the truly urban amenities and infrastructure of a much “bigger” city for a fraction of the cost.
The simple fact of lower housing costs contributes greatly to Pittsburgh’s diversity and sustainability; it is not merely a city for the very rich and the very poor, and for urban hipsters in their twenties who are willing to settle for living in a rented hovel just so they can be close to lots of bars. Mind you, all of those classes are present, but they’re not the only classes present. There are old people and families with children and even misanthropic homosexual couples as well.
The structure of the city is still largely pedestrian and neighborhood based, and the transit infrastructure is in place. That means it is quite possible to live there without a car, but it’s also quite possible and realistic to live there with a car. Or to do both, depending on one’s mood on a given day. That’s something I’ve always wanted in a city. Pittsburgh also has the universities and libraries, and bookstores and thrift stores, and diners and cheap ethnic restaurants of a real urban center, but it also has supermarkets and chain stores as needed. While there are boutiques, Pittsburgh is not a boutique city. Even the upscale neighborhoods are more likely to be anchored by a supermarket and a kosher deli than by a Pottery Barn and some chic restaurant with an insipid name and a tasting menu.
I’ll no doubt have more to say in the coming months. For now, I’ll just say again that I’m really looking forward to exploring and seeing what my new second home has to offer while being happy and comfy in my first one as well.