Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Things I Love About Downtown Pittsburgh

By, Kenneth Trueman

The fine folks at the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership recently ran a contest to find the best Pittsburgh love story. I didn’t enter the contest, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t already things I love about Pittsburgh, its downtown in particular.
Now, that as a society, there is an appreciation for what cities represent (Jane Jacobs and 1992 notwithstanding), Pittsburgh is fortunate in that so much of its downtown is still intact. Whereas a city like Los Angeles has start over again, filling in the parking lots that created islands of civilization, Pittsburgh has a lot to work with. These are exciting times!
Market Square
My favorite part of downtown Pittsburgh has to be Market Square. It’s not perfect to be sure. In some ways, it is early days in its current iteration. But it performs the function of a square, which is to bring people together. To be a place where people meet by plan or by serendipity. (If you see me and recognize me, please say Hi! I would be the guy with the Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey on the weekends.)
I walk through Market Square every day on my way to work, though it would save me time to stay on Liberty Avenue, I just like going there. I take my time when I walk through Market Square and I enjoy people watching. I moved to Pittsburgh in November, so I caught the tail end of the farmer’s market. It meant that I had the opportunity to grab some pierogies and a chair and enjoy the warm Fall sun. I can’t wait for it to come back! (I have a decades-long pierogi deficit that needs to be addressed.)

Photo by John Altdorfer
One of the things I like most about Market Square is that from most angles, the taller buildings are set back, allowing you to see downtown reveal itself.
My Favorite Lunchtime Restaurant
Well it’s actually a kitchen with a counter and a seating area. I am referring to Bluebird Kitchen at 221 Forbes Ave, just a stone’s throw (or a chip shot for the golfers out there) from Market Square. They have a lot of wonderful dishes cooked fresh daily and helpfully highlighted on their Facebook page just to tempt you even more. Coming from Quebec, I must admit I have a weakness for the croque monsieur sandwich that they offer. Nothing like an iconic foodstuff from France to make one feel homesick. It is somewhat rich—I suspect the butter—but oh so tasty!
Nooks and Crannies
I like the different architectural styles that can be found downtown, ranging from turn of the 19th century to buildings constructed in the last few years. I like the interplay between buildings, the contrast in styles, and the interplay between lines.

I like the things you find where buildings meet. And I like the ornamentation, the commemorative plaques and other details that are to be found. Like the globe at 201 Stanwix, on the façade of the former Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania building. Or the plaque beside the Larrimor’s clothing store.

It’s only when you are ground level, whether cycling, running or walking, but at least out of the car, that you can find these hidden treasures.
It was one of these wonderful architectural treasures that got me into trouble a few Sundays ago while running downtown with a group of folks I met on The car equivalent of what I did would be called ‘rubbernecking’, which is what happens when drivers, looking at the car accident off to the side, fail to see the stopped car in front of them and thus have an accident of their own.

In this case, I was entranced by the beautiful façade of the Dollar Savings Bank on Fourth Avenue, between Smithfield and Wood Streets. Built in 1870, it is a true treasure.

Looking upwards at the bank, I was so entranced that I failed to notice the railing for a ramp laid out in the middle of the opposing sidewalk. My running colleagues, convinced that I knew what I was doing and that I would change my path in time, said nothing.
The result, I ran straight into the square end of the railing at a pretty good clip, I came to a complete stop and went down worse than Joe Frazier in the 5th roun, ending up with massive bruising on both my groin and my thigh. I limped home, my pride injured. My official story, and the one I am sticking to, at least for my colleagues at work, is that I took a slap shot in the thigh while wearing my Montreal Canadiens jersey in Market Square!

All photos by Kenneth Trueman unless otherwise noted


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