Perhaps it was the opening of the Brooklynesque store selling vintage denim, or the Ghostbusters vehicle heading down Butler Street to Wendy’s parking lot, but Lawrenceville is a different place than it was a few years ago. I had worked there in the early 1990s for a once beloved, now defunct neighborhood rag called the Pittsburgh Observer.
If you aren’t familiar, it’s a once working-class neighborhood along the Allegheny River that stretches from the Strip District to Allegheny Cemetery. An old factory here is now home to the Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center. Of course, that doesn’t employ nearly as many as the mill it replaced, and my guess is that few who work here live in the skinny-brick rowhouses remaining from the mill days.
I wanted to see the area after hearing about all the changes that have taken place. While I didn’t find it to be that different than I remembered, the emerging vibe was apparent. On my last leg living in Pittsburgh (circa 2005) the city was being called the affordable San Francisco. Now the moniker is the next Brooklyn.
Certainly, I sensed a little bit of Brooklyn in Lawrenceville, but Brooklyn today isn’t the Brooklyn I left in 2010 either. Is Pittsburgh an alternative to those fleeing the rising costs in Williamsburg? It makes sense to me, but looking back, I am skeptical. If you look through the newspaper archives circa 1991-1995 you are sure to find articles about New Yorkers discovering the Steel City. Sadly for me, I am old enough to remember them.
If you walk down Butler Street in Lawrenceville today you will find a lot that wasn’t there a few year’s ago. New restaurants, a small print run card store, a bookstore, a classic barber shop (like would have been there as a holdover from previous decades circa 1985), the vintage denim store and bikeshare. It’s probably a great time to be here. It’s a good thing the changes aren’t as dramatic as I expected from the hype, and today there’s a really nice mix of old world and new. The chains haven’t discovered it yet and the cookie-cutter apartment building doesn’t seem to have started. Businesses are locally-owned, it has some weird, and while prices have increased, it is “affordable.” Especially when you compare it to Brooklyn.
People are moving to Pittsburgh. It’s a lot younger than it used to be. And today Pittsburghers have trouble finding fault with their city. That’s a change from the early ’90’s when many would instinctively apologize for it by asking “why would you move here?”
To me, it’s one of the best cities in the country. I rarely speak to someone who has visited who does not like it. Still, I don’t understand why more people don’t move to Pittsburgh. Despite any influx, it isn’t growing and recent projections point to a continuing population decline into 2030.
But for now, Lawrenceville is an affordable Brooklyn or close to what Brooklynites imagine they have lost over time, with a little bit of Austin weird thrown in. If only Manhattan was just across the river.