Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On the Road - 4: Pittsburgh (Putting the 'It's' in It's Happening)

Pittsburgh, PA: The erstwhile steel capital of America. Andrew Carnegie's backlot, his sandbox. But that was then. When most people (including me) think of Pittsburgh today, they probably think it is a dump - a dying old steel town that outlived its usefulness, and is past its prime.

Imagine my shock when I looked outside my tiny AmericanEagle airplane (3 seats a row, a plane so tiny even reasonably tall people have to crouch to walk through the aisle), I saw thick plumes of lush green trees, a neat and dazzling array of skyscrapers surrounded by spectacular bridges over wide rivers. No surprise, then, that Pittsburgh was named the most livable city in America .

Pittsburgh, PA. []
The city of bridges has experienced a rebirth, and it is all the bit better for it. Everyone I talked to was immensely proud of Pitt's beauty and acted playfully offended when I expressed my surprise at finding the city so pleasant.

I stayed in a neighborhood called ShadySide, about 2 miles from University of Pittsburgh (which is located in an area called Oakland), in a nice little hotel called ShadySide Inn (a converted apartment building, where 50's era radiators are anachronistically juxtaposed next to flat screen TVs). The hotel is so nice that the manager mails signed thank-you notes to guests.

I took it as another mark of the city's confidence that it chooses to call one of its swankiest locales Shadyside.

Oakland is a very vibrant area, owing to the presence of two major research universities: University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The two campuses are so enmeshed that buildings from both campuses are often located right next to each other. To avoid confusing freshmen, they label each building's name with the name of the school.

U Pitt, because of its medical school and its associated medical center, is a more forceful presence. Like in Ann Arbor, where Mich dominated the city, UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) pretty much dominates the area. UPMC operates about 25 hospitals in and around Pittsburgh, making it the largest health system in the United States. Last year, the system generated about $8 billion in revenues, which gives you a sense of the extent of its multifaceted operations.

U Pitt is also, by far, the older of the two institutions. It was founded in 1787, when none of us were alive.

University of Pittsburgh: founded before you, your mother, your grandmother and your great-grandmother were alive

You can tell U Pitt values education by the fact that they have a humongous Cathedral of learning (I can hear Citizen Lafayette salivating at this factoid) right in the middle of campus. Magnificent and imposing at 535 feet, the cathedral is the fourth-largest educational building in the world, as my friend Wikipedia informs me (second, if you go by the tour guides at Pitt School of Medicine). The building is open 24/7, and its 42 floors house many classrooms and a quiet study room. I took a peek inside and the architecture is just so intricate and awe-inspiring.
The Cathedral of learning: bigger than ANYTHING on your college campus

People here were tactful enough not to mention the harsh winters (last winter's snowstorms virtually crippled the whole city. People reportedly skied down the hilly streets around the Med school.) Regardless, Pittsburgh is a very beautiful city.

Spread the word. Correct the misconception. Squash the rumors.

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