Anyone live in the Pittsburgh area?

I’ve been accepted to a PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh and am considering attending. However, I’m from the Pacific Northwest and have lived there all my life (except for 3 years in Japan, where I live now.) I’ve never been to the eastern half of the US at all. To tell the embarrassing truth, I wasn’t even sure what state Pittsburgh was in and I had to look it up on a map. :smack:

What is Pittsburgh like? Is it a big city? I mean, I can look up statistics but that doesn’t tell me much–does it feel like a big city, or a small place? Is it easy to get to places like New York (I know it’s a long bus/train ride, but do you consider it feasible considering price, frequency of trips, etc.?) What are the good neighborhoods and what are the bad? How is the crime/drug problems/unemployment rate? What is nature like in the area–I love hiking and so on, are there many chances? How close are the great lakes? How much are apartments and general cost of living? Is there a counter culture and lots of young people or is it generally more conservative? What is the political culture like?

What about the university itself–any thoughts? Anyone attend? What is it’s reputation? I am attracted by its long history and apparently quite lovely campus. I am studying art history and there is a decent museum there, from what I understand.

If I do decide to go there, it’s going to be for a long time and I want to make an informed decision. Any thoughts would be much appreciated!

I went to a PhD program at CMU at the Mellon Institute (on Fifth avenue next to the SEI), which is across the street from Pitt. I was there from '89-94, so assume I am talking about my expereince from that time period.

I found it a great place to live as a poor grad student. The city is divided up into neighborhoods that have very unique personalities. I lived in apartments in E. Liberty, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. Shadyside is more funky, Squirrel Hill has a more old world feel and E. Liberty is more urban. Oakland is the area around CMU and Pitt and feels like college area.

The bus service was great- I didn’t have a car until my last year and half. I walked or took the bus between home and school and took the bus downtown. I was in the lab from 8 am to 11 pm 6-7 days a week, but there were fun restaurants around Mellon/Pitt to grab quick lunches and dinners.

The city was very affordable for a poor grad student. I enjoyed my time there very much.

I’ve lived here since 2007. Before that, I lived in the SF Bay Area for nine years, and before that I grew up in the Washington DC area.

First off, Pittsburgh used to have a reputation for being extremely polluted. It’s not like that any more, since the steel mills went away.

There is a Trader Joe’s here, in East Liberty. That’s the California metric of civilization- if a city doesn’t have a Trader Joe’s, it must not be civilized :wink:

The weather sucks, but that won’t be such a change coming from the Pacific Northwest, other than the snow. We don’t have a lot of sunny days per year. Of course, I like dry sunny days- I would live in the Atacama Desert if I could. If you like cloudy, rainy weather, you’ll like Pittsburgh weather. If you’re one of those people who can’t stand the idea of “not having four seasons”, you’ll like it, although the summers are not very hot. If you are one of those “four seasons” people, get your butt over to my house and shovel out my extra parking space now.

If you have a car, you’ll probably need to get new tires for it your first winter here. I did when I brought my car here from California. Everyday car tires in places like the Bay Area aren’t selected with snow in mind.

It does not feel like a small town. I hate small towns, and it doesn’t feel like one.

Flying there is certainly feasible.

Squirrel Hill and Shadyside are good neighborhoods. Quite a few students live in Squirrel Hill, where I live. Bus service from where I live to Pitt is very good, if crowded at commute time.

Better than a lot of places. The main industries here are health care and the universities. Those are more recession-proof than a lot of other industries.

Not that close. Erie or Cleveland are about 2 hours away.

I don’t know about apartments- we bought a house when we moved here. The cost of living is definitely lower than in the SF Bay area, but that’s not saying a whole lot.

Pittsburgh is a blue city (as are most cities, I guess). In Squirrel Hill during the last election, Obama signs outnumbered McCain by probably 10 to 1. It’s not Berkeley or Boulder, but it’s definitely not a conservative small town, either.

I’d look more at its reputation in your field (your professors would be helpful here) than at its reputation overall for a grad program.

When I moved to Pittsburgh I thought it’d be like this. It’s not, it’s a nice city.

The one thing to remember is - it is ONE BIG HILL.

It’s definately mountainous. It’s like San Francisco in that respect. But flat Ohio is only an hour’s drive off.

It’s nice that DC is only about 4 hours away and there’s a lot beauty in the Pennsylvania mountains.

As always check the forums at City-Data (dot) Com for relocation info.

That it is. You’ll want to take that into account if you plan to get around by walking. It’s also an issue when driving in ice and snow (a problem than San Francisco does not have).

Lots of bridge too- every time I made a wrong turn I ended up on a bridge!

Most of them are not toll bridges, though, so it’s not as bad as if you made a wrong turn onto a bridge in the SF Bay Area.

I like the tunnels too. I must say Pittsburgh certainly is a lot prettier than most people think.

If you go east don’t take the tollway, take US30. The tollway is much faster but US30 is so beautiful, especially in the spring.

True- but it freaked me out each time. I grew up in Western, NY, so going over a bridge generally meant you were headed for Canada!

One thing I was told, and confirmed for myself: don’t commute over a bridge or through a tunnel. They create traffic bottlenecks. This may well be true everywhere, not just in Pittsburgh.

Hey, you got this lurker to finally register! Hello, everyone.

I’m a former Pittsburgher, and most of my family still lives there. Oakland, the college neighborhood, is one of my favorites in the city. If you end up going there, definitely check out Lulu’s Noodles on Craig. Now, as for your real questions:

One of those sayings that I grew up with is that Pittsburgh is like a small town in a big city. It’s kind of true, having lived in both. It’s friendlier than a lot of big cities, at least on the East Coast. However, there is plenty to do there and you don’t end up knowing everyone. We are kind of far from other cities. The closest ones are probably Cleveland and Columbus, with Philadelphia being about 5 or 6 hours a way (I think), and DC being around 4-5, depending which way you go (the Turnpike is awful, by the way). There are Greyhounds and Amtrak as well as a sizable airport, so you aren’t stuck in the middle of nowhere. Plus, there are plenty of smaller towns much closer than those are.

Crime-wise, it’s fine. I’ve never had problems. I learned that East Liberty and the Hill District were the bad neighborhoods that’d be closest to you, but then my family’s awfully socially conservative and those are the black neighborhoods. I’ve been in East Liberty (that is where the Trader Joe’s and the co-op are), and it’s been fine. The bus system’s excellent; I didn’t bother to get a license until I was 18 and moving off to college. It gets more expensive every year, and every time a budget goes through, there’s a big kerfuffle where they threaten to do away with buses because we have no money, but it hasn’t happened yet. Oakland has a lot of bus lines going through it, so there’s very little problem getting anywhere from there.

As for hiking, yes. Ohiopyle is very close by, to the south… east? I think? It’s beautiful down there. Actually, most of the countryside an hour or so off from the city is beautiful, and I miss the camping. Pittsburgh also has a few urban hiking trails, including one along the waterfront and by where the steel mills used to be. They’re working on a trail that will connect to the DC area, I believe? Also, you might want to check out websites or books on the staircases in the city. It’s becoming kind of the thing. There are quite a few streets that are too steep to really be streets, so they built a staircase instead. There’s a book of photographs somewhere, I believe, and I think I’ve come across guides to exploring those.

Okay, this is getting awfully long for a first post ever, but I can talk about my home city a lot. I love it there, and I miss it sometimes. Oh, one of my friends is also in Pitt’s art history PhD programs. I haven’t talked to her in a long time, but she seems to enjoy it. Anyway, I really am done now.

[quote=“Tanaqui, post:1, topic:531847”]

What about the university itself–any thoughts? Anyone attend? What is it’s reputation? I am attracted by its long history and apparently quite lovely campus. I am studying art history and there is a decent museum there, from what I understand.


The Art museum(s) are first rate. The Carnegie host the International every few years, The Warhol is popular, the matress factory is really cool as well. There is a growing visionary art scene.

Pitt itself is also first rate. I’m in cancer research and have been at Pitt for almost 15 years.

You askes about cost of living: you could rent student housing from $500 a month and up. You could buy a house for $100K give or take a few K.

Good luck, PM me if you wish.


If you’re Jewish or Catholic, you’ll find a lot of people who share your religion here, if that’s important to you. If you keep kosher, there’s a kosher butcher and some supermarkets with a good kosher selection in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside. There are a number of synagogues of various denominations in Squirrel Hill. Lots of restaurants are doing Lenten specials now for Catholics.

If you’re Hindu, there’s a temple in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. There are also some Buddhist centers. If you’re Muslim, the first mosque established in Pennsylvania is here. There’s also a Sikh gurdwara in the eastern suburbs. There are, of course, Protestant churches as well, including one in Squirrel Hill that has a rainbow flag.

Do they still have the Greek food festival in Oakland? I forget what the name of the Church was. We used to buy that church out- it was soooo good.

Funny story- I bought my first Hanukkah menorah in a Judaica shop in Squirrel Hill. I picked up this beautiful one in the front of teh store, turned it over to look at the price and promptly shouted “Jesus Christ!” because it was so expensive. In the middle of the Judaica store, surrounded by orthodox Jews.


Yes, they do. It’s St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that does it. I hope they don’t do it during Passover this year.

I grew up near Pittsburgh, attended Pitt for undergrad, and currently cannot wait to move back home once I finish up graduate school. Feel free to PM me if you have any specific questions!

I’ve heard it described as a big city made up of smaller cities. That is to say, many of the neighborhoods have such a specific feel to them that you could imagine being in a small town. Plus there’s a bit of a stereotype that Pittsburghers will never cross rivers. The city is cut into 3 parts–north of the Allegheny, south of the Monongahela, and between the two rivers (where Downtown, Pitt, and most of the neighborhoods mentioned here are in). I think it has many of the benefits of living in a large city with many of the benefits of living in smaller cities.

Yes, it is feasible to drive, fly or train. Honestly, it is not such a bad drive that driving is out of the question. You can certainly make a long weekend of it, but if you plan on going Friday-Sunday, you’ll be spending way too much time driving to make it worth it.

Most of the neighborhoods have pretty distinct feels to them. Many still retain their ethnic culture–Bloomfield (Italian), Squirrel Hill (Jewish), Polish Hill (Polish), and Lawrenceville (Hipster) are all nice neighborhoods. Squirrel Hill, Greenfield and Shadyside (the wealthiest neighborhood) are both popular places for young professionals and grad student-types. East Liberty used to be unpleasant but now is in the latter stages of gentrification and is home to the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. The bad neighborhoods are the Hill District, Homewood, Larimer, and a few others. Oakland where Pitt is is a great place to hang out and spent time–full of bars, museums, and restaurants. You will not want to live in Oakland, though, as it is over-priced and chock full of undergrads. Buses, which are free for Pitt students, run through Oakland directly to all of the previously mentioned neighborhoods. Public transportation is great in the city

Less problems than other similarly sized cities.

Nature is abundant in the area. It is right in the Allegheny mountains so there is plenty of hiking nearby. Hiking in the area includes Ohiopyle, Raccoon State Park, Keystone State Park, and a couple others. The Great Lakes are at least a 2 hour drive away to either Erie or Cleveland. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is a short drive away.

You’ll find the city to be very very cheap coming from Japan and the Pacific Northwest. Apartments in a nicer neighborhoods like Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield, etc can be found for $500.

The political culture is very very blue dating back to the strong union roots in the city. Democrats outnumber Republicans by a huge margin (I think the actual figure is 6 to 1). The city is also a fairly old by population but there is a strong counterculture/arts community generally centered in the South Side Flats and Lawrenceville plus the obvious locations near the Universities.

I attended Pitt (in the natural sciences) and loved every minute of it. It is fairly highly ranked among US research universities. The campus IS very nice in parts, in particular near The Cathedral of Learning and The Frick Fine Arts Building where the Art History department is centered. However, it is an urban campus sprawling throughout the entire neighborhood of Oakland and there is not an enormous amount of green space outside of the Cathedral lawn and the nearby parks where the FFA building is located.

I love Pittsburgh! It’s a great place to live and Pitt is a great place to go to school

People still live in Pittsburgh? I thought they all moved here to NC. :slight_smile:

Pittsburgh’s population has been declining for many years. The housing boom didn’t make it here, nor did the bust, really.

There are quite a few houses near me in Squirrel Hill that are rented out, if that’s what you’re looking for. They are almost all old houses, though. If you’re looking for new construction, Squirrel Hill and Shadyside probably aren’t the places for you. If you’re looking for a big yard, those neighborhoods aren’t for you, either. They’re pre-car-culture neighborhoods, and the houses are close together.

One thing we have in Squirrel Hill that I think is very cool is that the houses on a given street don’t all look the same, and two houses next door to each other could have very different values. I like this, but if you like homogeneous neighborhoods, you might not.

I knew the Pitt population was going down, but I checked and they are down 50% since 1950.

True but the metro area is way up and that’s how it is in most Eastern Cities. Look at Chicago and Detroit. Both cities lost nearly a million people since 1950 but the metro areas are much bigger