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North Hills Monthly

You’ve Come a Long Way, Pittsburgh

Aug 29, 2014 08:58PM ● By Larry Richert
“Hell with the lid off!” That’s how 19th-century author James Parton described Pittsburgh back in its steelmaking heyday. Looking at photographs of that time period, it’s hard to argue. When the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright was asked what could be done with the city of Pittsburgh to begin its first renaissance, I’ve been told that he said, “Burn it!”

That was a long time ago, and in 2006, the Financial Times in England officially declared that we were “Hell with the lid off, no more.” That was only five years ago.

We have come a long way. In 1985, when Rand–McNally first announced that Pittsburgh was America’s Most Livable City, it was hard for even us natives to believe. But gradually, we’re starting to get the message. Then they picked us again…and again. And there were other lists where we were on top, or in the top 10. We were even named one of the best all-American vacation cities by the Travel Channel this year.

We are continuing to see major progress here, while so many other rust-belt cities struggle. Perhaps no city in the country is having more of a crisis than Detroit; I can’t imagine dealing with the issues that they face there. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is increasing in population, and this growth is seen not only in suburbs like the North Hills, but in our downtown core and especially on the North Shore.

Late mayor Sophie Masloff dared to suggest years ago that we should build a baseball-only stadium. She was largely thought to be dreaming at the time, and that’s exactly what she was doing! The rest is history. I have always been amazed by people with the vision to see into the future, especially through the smoke and gray of yesteryear. If our regions’ leaders didn’t start the process of transformation, particularly in the 1950s, we would now just be another burned-out industrial scrapyard.

The Tower at PNC, the new 33-story downtown office building, is almost 60 percent complete with an occupation date at the end of next year. This skyscraper is just one more symbol of a healthy economy. Pittsburgh’s skyline continues to awe visitors and residents year-round with both new and old architecture standing side-by-side. And just look at the North Shore in the last 10 years; Three Rivers Stadium stood there alone for decades, until it was razed and replaced by PNC Park and Heinz Field, which jumpstarted a building boom that isn’t done yet.

More people are living downtown than at any other time perhaps in our history, a fact that some experts thought impossible even a few years ago. And tourism is big business here; for example, when the ‘Furries’ had their international convention in Pittsburgh again this summer, they pumped another $5 million into our local economy and added a lot of colorful scenery.

Ask anyone who first saw Pittsburgh by coming through the Fort Pitt tunnel, and you know they get it. When was the last time you went to the top of Mt. Washington and really took a good look around? The city received an award for having a beautiful skyline too, by the way. “Hell with the lid off,” no more!