A Personal Perspective On Urban Decay

I live in Pittsburgh, right on 5th Avenue. Cars pass by my apartment building all day heading in and out of the city. I’ve been downtown quite a few times, on bus or by car but not until I looked at a map one morning did I realize that I live only 3.5 miles from the center of the city and, most importantly, Point State Park. There is a lovely view of the three rivers there: the Allegheny, Monongahela and the Ohio. I decided that I’d run there. It couldn’t be hard, I just had to follow 5th Avenue.

I have never walked from my house to the skyscrapers downtown before. And that day I learned an important lesson. Between The University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon and The Point is an old neighborhood known as the Hill District.

To get to the Hill you must cross or go under the freeway. The freeway cuts the neighbors off from the rest of the city. The foundations of buildings, tore up in the 50s, are still there: twisted metal rises from the ground, then there is a clean concrete barrier and the cars roaring by. It is one of the most pedestrian unfriendly areas of the city, no cross walks or ramps. The curb ends abruptly at the Smithfield Street Bridge and you must hop down on to the pavement and run hoping not to be hit.

You know you are in the Hill District when you stumble on to crumbling sidewalks covered with trash and overgrown vines, when you see house after abandoned house, many fire damaged. As you walk along you’ll here the sound of people clicking the auto locks on their car doors closed.

It was not always this way. My grandfather talks about a different kind of Hill District. He talks about people keeping city gardens and chatting over the fence while the kids played on Saturday afternoons. That’s all gone now. The question is: Why?