Pittsburgh is famously a city of neighborhoods–ninety of them, to be exact. Most are incredibly distinct. There’s no questioning the transition from Bloomfield to Oakland or Larimer to Lincoln or Polish Hill to Lawrenceville–you have to cross a bridge to get there. Spring Hill and Troy Hill are way up on the top of steep hills; Spring Garden is down in the valley between. More subtley, Bloomfield and Friendship are on the same plane, but as Friendship Ave. dog-legs around, the street grid changes bias, the blocks change dimension, and Friendship’s stately detached homes yield to tight Bloomfield aluminum-clad row houses. It’s clear you’re somewhere else.
But not all of the city is as well-defined, nor is it all prospering at the same rate. What to do? Enter the acroname–the citizen and/or developer-based rebranding of urban spaces to upsell low-rent sections of town into yuppie havens and “whitopias”. New York has famously come up with SoHo, TriBeCa, NoLita, Dumbo, etc. to address this; others have followed suit. Pittsburgh has been blessedly free of this trend*, but at the rate we’re gentrifying–and our collective me too obsession–it seems like it’s only a matter of time.
Here then is an Orbit modest prediction/proposal for the rebranding of some parts of town that are maybe a little harder to define just how and where they fit in.
NoSOak (“No Soak”)
The residential section of central Oakland, with Bates as its main through street, was traditionally an Italian-American neighborhood, but that legacy has largely ceded to college ghetto. Ratty old couches fill front porches , flags and beer signage decorate dirty windows. By rebranding itself NoSOak (North of South Oakland), the neighborhood’s landlords and property developers may be able to usher in an entirely new clientele of tech yuppies and hospital workers, eager to rehab those turn-of-the-century row houses on pedestrian-friendly blocks, the lovely aroma of street tacos perpetually wafting in the breeze.
NoCarSoSoSlo (“No Car–So, So Slow”)
The southern borough of Mount Oliver is a politically-independent island entirely surrounded by the city of Pittsburgh, but hasn’t benefitted from (or gotten ruined-by–take your pick) the rapid gentrification that so much of the city is experiencing. Heck, even hilltop neighbor Allentown has a heavy metal coffee shop now! With the rebranding NoCarSoSoSlo (North of Carrick/South of the Southside Slopes) the borough can reference two city neighborhoods without ever mentioning you have to pay goofy Mount Oliver taxes.
The two-to-three-block-wide strip that runs between the train tracks/east busway and Baum Boulevard are technically Shadyside, but it’s physically cut off from the heart of that neighborhood and it doesn’t share its hoity-toity feel. To mix our metaphors like we’re real urban planners, VoBeShaBlo (The Void Between Shadyside and Bloomfield) is a line in the sand that its resident “Shay-Blowers” will wear with pride, finally attaining an identity that’s been missing for a long, long time.
The hoodlet has some appealing (potential) amenities that can make this work. There are nice, if not fancy, older frame houses (although not that many of them). Between Centre and Baum they’ve got a bigger business district than a lot of city neighborhoods. And it’s well-connected/located if you’re either a cyclist or bus rider. VoBeShaBlo’s Giant Eagle even sells beer!
PaHolE / WheBiJIs (“PAY-hole / we-BIJ-iss”)
Four Mile Run, or just “The Run”, is the tiny sub-neighborhood under both The Parkway and Swinburne bridges. Its technically a part of Greenfield, but doesn’t really feel like it. Like Rodney Dangerfield, a lot of people go back to school via its walk/bicycle path directly to central Oakland and cyclists know it as the connection point to the jail trail. But with literally just one-way-in/one-way-out, motorists typically ignore it and most of Pittsburgh has probably never even been to the neighborhood.
Luckily for PaHolE / WheBiJIs (Panther Hollow East / Where Big Jim’s Is) there are a couple of great local places of note including the great St. John Byzantine Church, access to the Schenley Park ball fields, city steps up to Greenfield proper, and Big Jim’s terrific eponymous tavern. Let’s quit fooling around and put it on the map.
The area around Pitt’s upper campus doesn’t really feel like it fits in anywhere. It’s the university, so that’s Oakland, right? But it’s also way up the hill–at the southeastern edge of The Hill District–physically separated from the hospitals and school buildings below. By embracing their new identity as HiDiBuNoQuOak (Hill District, But Not Quite Oakland) residents tell the world they’re doing their own thing in their own time, man. No quoke.
* LoLa (Lower Lawrenceville) and Eastside (East Liberty adjoining Shadyside) are the two painfully obvious exceptions, although The Orbit doesn’t know anyone that actually uses these terms.