You know, Downtown life can be quite sweet
I was a downtown Pittsburgh resident for the month of Buctober and Ducktober.
A bit of an explanation first: In August, I entered an online contest sponsored by Imagine Pittsburgh, an initiative of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, designed to drum up interest in living in the Golden Triangle. The prize: One month in Millcraft Investment’s River Vue apartment building, the old state office building.
And my room had quite the view, overlooking Point State Park and a spectacular vista including Mt. Washington, and our three rivers. I liked River Vue, which bills itself as luxury apartment living — a lot. It’s quiet, the residents are friendly, and it’s in a great location.
Downtown living was a big change for me. Even though I’ve worked at the Trib on the North Side for more than 3 1⁄2 years, I’ve always been a suburbanite and have owned a house in Beaver County for more than nine years. I’ve never lived in a big-city, downtown setting.
According to a Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership report, there are nearly 8,000 people living Downtown in 4,265 housing units, for an occupancy rate of nearly 96 percent.
I figured this would be a good social experiment. What would be the difference between city and suburban living? What are the benefits or pitfalls of being a Downtown resident?
In the heart of it all, Market Square has arguably transformed itself into the social hub of Downtown. Day and night, the restaurants are busy, and until the weather changed, plenty of people filled the streets. It’s a great place to sit and people-watch, to see the variety of folks that come Downtown.
And I’m surprised how many Downtown residents have dogs. I saw many walking their pets in the evenings. It also surprised me to see a fair number of people standing outside the Downtown Macy’s just before noon on two consecutive Sundays waiting to get into the store.
It was a nice change of pace to walk to shows at the Benedum Center or nearby bars or restaurants, and not have to think about a 35-minute drive home.
It was thrilling to hear the roar of the crowd all the way from PNC Park outside River Vue. The Bucs brought an energy to town I haven’t seen in years.
And then there’s the Duck. For nearly three solid weeks, I watched a steady stream of people walk in and out of Point State Park to catch a glimpse of the 40-foot rubber duck docked along the Allegheny River. Parking garages Downtown were packed on weekends, and some nearby restaurants said their business spiked.
The biggest need Downtown, not surprisingly, is a full-service grocery store. There are several spots where you can pick up a few basic items. But for full shopping, I had to head to the North Side Giant Eagle.
At home, it’s not a big deal for me to jump into the car and run a quick errand. When you live Downtown, you have to plan things out a bit more, grouping your trips so that you move your car once, even though I had a valet parking space in the building.
And, sadly, panhandlers are still out in full force Downtown, many even toting around children to help tug at the heartstrings. And, will someone explain to me why three people within a few weeks asked me for exactly $18.75?
And smokers. Lots and lots of smokers. I kept getting hit in the face with exhaled smoke as I walked Downtown, and there are a heck of a lot of cigarette butts lying around.
There’s no doubt, Downtown living can be expensive. Monthly rents on smaller apartments are usually well over $1,000, and parking can add an additional couple hundred dollars. One lunch with a friend in Market Square cost me $55.
I also was surprised by the constant hum that exists Downtown. From the rumble of trucks hitting the brakes as they exit off the Fort Pitt Bridge to jackhammers on sidewalks to the pounding of steel at the new Tower at PNC Plaza at Fifth Avenue and Woods Street, it never seems to end.
For those who think everything shuts down Downtown when the workforce leaves, I challenge you to stick around after work now and again. I think you’ll be surprised as to how many people are hanging around.
I also challenge you to take an hour every once in a while and go visit something you haven’t seen before.
Go to the top floor of a parking garage and soak in the views. You’ll be surprised as to what a different perspective you get. And, if you’re really high up, you’ll be amazed as to how many green roofs are on Downtown buildings.
I took a week of vacation during my Downtown stay, and saw things I’ve never seen before; I was always too busy running from one assignment to the next to take a few minutes to look at the surroundings.
I’m 45 years old, and never once saw the ornate architecture in the lobby of the Union Trust Building. A security guard there said he hears that all the time. I didn’t know there’s a cellphone-activated light display tucked into Tito Way off Liberty Avenue.
Despite all the growth and the energy Downtown, I’ll still think of Pittsburgh as a “big small city.” One River Vue resident’s mother lives just a few blocks from me in Beaver County.
Many folks still smile, nod and say hello when you make eye contact with them walking on the street.
When I carried a large package out of Macy’s to a woman’s car, she didn’t just thank me. She gave me a big hug. I don’t think you’d get that in many other places.
Thanks for a great month, Downtown Pittsburgh. I’ll miss you. And I’ll miss the Duck.
I’ll see you next week.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or [email protected].