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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

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New Girl in Town: What Pittsburgh Needs

Now that I’ve been in Pittsburgh almost two years, I have a greater appreciation for the beauty of our town – and a heightened awareness of what’s missing.  Sure, there are big issues like air quality, the need for foreign talent and getting the trains to run (faster and farther) on time.  That said, it’s often easier to start with a few modest successes. Let's focus on amenities. Here’s what I’d do first.

A large public market.  As an unabashed fan of the Strip District, I don’t want to kick a gift horse in the mouth but that nabe would be so much more if it were paired with a large public market akin to Quincy Market in Boston or Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market. Neighbors In The Strip has been working on a Pittsburgh Public Market for several years and is convinced its proposed building at 18th and Smallman would be a boon to the District.  The Market would greatly expand the area’s offerings since there are over a hundred products not currently represented, among them Indian, Amish and Kosher foods, dairy farmers, urban gardeners, honey and hives and a mushroom guy.  It would reside in a light-filled historic building split roughly into thirds between fresh foods, prepared foods and non-food items and would feature a demonstration kitchen.  Other benefits?  The facility would support local agriculture (hello, Jamison Farms!), create jobs, act as a small-business incubator, provide an educational component and be a terrific re-use of an historic building.  So what are we waiting for?  Money.  The Strip District Public Market Council is a registered 501(c)3 so contributions are tax deductible.  Support them, please!

A destination downtown.  As an urban girl, I love to shop and eat downtown but we could use a few more reasons to do so in Pittsburgh.  Sure, I love Saks and I have some fave restaurants along Penn but there’s a swath of land bordered by Grant and Liberty, Blvd. of the Allies and Eleventh that’s pleading for love.  A chat with Mike Edwards, president of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP), proves illuminating.  Over 140,000 people work downtown so eateries cater to the eat ‘n run lunch crowd.  Downtown used to be a retail hub as recently as the 80s but as shoppers gravitated toward suburban malls, the need for quality retail in the urban core diminished, with Nordstrom’s choice of Ross Park Mall the last straw.  The current plan is for more downtown living along with high-quality office space and a continued emphasis on the transformation of Fifth Avenue.  Market Square, a quaint urban space, is also getting a makeover, with twice-as-wide sidewalks, a piazza for strolling and enhanced dining options.  I may not get the shopping I want anytime soon but there is free wi-fi downtown (thank you, PDP!) so I can at least shop online from Point State Park.

A living wall.  While in Paris, our editor saw the lush "living wall" at the Musee du Quai Branly (pictured).  Since Pittsburgh is known as a green city why not have a so-called vertical garden--a series of plantings grown vertically on a building, whether it's a side wall or a front wall. Living walls have sprouted suddenly and they are green both literally (they’re plants, after all) and figuratively (they help remove toxins from the air).  More than just a new-age trellis, they are also works of art in how the plantings are arranged, the shape they take and their gradations of color as the seasons progress.  The nascent Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscape is considering such a wall, though its proposed location behind the Phipps’ tropical forest might not get a lot of foot traffic.  How about a living wall on the new Consol Energy Center? The building is pursuing LEED Gold certification, which would make it the first NHL arena to achieve such a designation.  Finding black and gold plants could prove challenging but I’m not concerned.  And while we’re at it, how about a skyfarm in Pittsburgh?  These vertical farms are high-rises filled with crops instead of people and can feed tens of thousand of people each year.  Now that’s green.

A global newsstand.  Whenever I think about the wonderful newsstand in Seattle’s Pike Place Market or in San Francisco’s Union Square or the one on just about every corner in New York City, I get a little jealous.  There’s something to be said about a town that’s willing to look outward and embrace the global village.  Plus, what will the G20 read while they’re here?  A recent visit to the venerable Gus Miller’s Newsstand in Oakland sees the NYT and WashPo close by the Daily Racing Form while donuts, chips and Red Bull rule the roost. Over on Squirrel Hill, Murray Avenue News appears to have been hit by a hurricane and if Hot Rod and Tiger Beat are two months old, well, the pix are still great! At Squirrel Hill Newsstand, it’s a sunshine-y day thanks to stellar lighting and a wall’s worth of neatly-shelved magazines for golfers and knitters, tweeters and thinkers.  I ask owner Nick Patel why it’s so hard to find international publications in Pittsburgh and his answer is simple: they don’t sell.  Here’s hoping we catch global fever by fall.

Your choice.  This short list is just a start.  We'd love to hear your ideas on what Pittsburgh needs.  Email us here and we’ll continue the conversation in an upcoming issue of Pop City.

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Elaine Labalme moved to Pittsburgh from San Franciso after researching the best city in which to live. She now resides happily in Mt. Lebanon with her husband and son.

Rendering courtesy UDA and Indovina Associates Architects

Photograph of Musee du Quai Branly copyright Tracy Certo

All other photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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