The ‘Burgh is a leftover steel town that feels like a city but operates like a hometown. The average joe’s tech knowledge (and fashion sense) is about ten to fifteen years behind major cities. If you’re coming here from a bustling metropolis, expect to deal with property management companies directly instead of apartment brokers—these are virtually unheard of in these parts.
Apartment hunting here truly is like hunting. Be prepared to commit both time and energy to pounding the pavement in the real world. Drive through the neighborhoods you’re interested in and keep your eyes peeled for the “For Rent” signs. This sounds like the most antiquated thing in the world—and it really might be—but Pittsburghian landlords aren’t exactly Silicon Valley elite. Cheap finds are rented out by people from a generation (or two) ago that don’t need or care to figure out more sophisticated methods: they’re happy waiting for you to call them. Also, be sure to check the classifieds in the Post-Gazette and Pennysaver (did we mention the old-timey technology?).
It’s always easier to find an apartment in the winter (as opposed to the summer or fall) but this is especially true in places that see snow dumps measured in feet—not inches. Pittsburgh is no exception to this rule. If the cold and snow aren’t enough to detour you, think about those all those hills (we’re getting there…)
Don’t underestimate heating costs as you’re scoping out your new digs. In Pittsburgh, the weather will be well under the freezing point for months, and if electric isn’t included in your utilities then keep on looking. 100 year old houses are both very common and very drafty and staying warm can bleed your wallet dry.
City of Bridges
Pittsburgh is small (only 56 square miles), but thinking in terms of mileage can be dangerous here. Distance in Pittsburgh is only sort of related to commute time (they’re like second cousins), what’s more important is geography (they’re blood brothers). As a general rule of thumb you’re looking at a long commute if:
You live on a hill. Hills equal winding roads that take forever to transverse and double your commute time in the snow.
You live on the other side of a hill. This means tunnels, and tunnels scare people, and scared people drive slowly and turn five minute commutes into hour commutes. Yes, really.
You’re across a river. There are 446 bridges in Pittsburgh, but only 10 connect to Downtown. Everyone headed between the city proper and its outlying areas gets bottlenecked at these spots making traffic essentially unavoidable if you live on the other side of a river (which is any direction other than east).
If you’re lured to the suburbs by the space and affordable housing make sure you plan the route to your daily destinations (work/school/grocery store) with as few of the above obstacles as possible.
- If you live north of the Allegheny and east of the Ohio rivers. Here you have a straight shot into the city via I-271.
- If you live in the southeast. The T, (subway/tram hybrid) takes you speedily & directly from Downtown to the up-and-coming Dormont area.
Our bike community is making a valiant effort to grow, but hills aren’t shrinking, public transit funding is being cut constantly and cyclists have nasty weather to contend with. It might not be the greenest suggestion in the world, but in Pittsburgh, you should probably drive. Ease your conscious and consider a hybrid.
Pittsburgh’s diversity of distinct neighborhoods rivals that of any major city. These are the bigguns (price scale $ - $$$$):
Where the Bros Are: Oakland & Shadyside are college kid territory because like, dude, that’s where Carnegie Melon and the University of Pittsburgh are. Here, thrifty students live in either Fight-Club-style slightly dilapidated mansions with too many roommates or small rundown apartments. You’ll also find some cheap eats and a sliver of high-end shopping on Walnut Street (what someone once hilariously referred to as, “the Rodeo drive of Pittsburgh”) in Shadyside. $$
Dahntahn: Or “downtown”, to us non-natives, is a handful of blocks crammed with skyscrapers and few housing options. Those that exist are refurbed lofts reserved for young professionals with accompanying budgets. The adjacent Strip District is a hybrid farmer’s market/street bazaar that’s packed with plenty of famous restaurants (Pamela’s Diner, Primanti Bros. and DeLuca’s) and local jewels (Wholey’s Fish Market, La Prima Coffee and the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company). $$$$
Hip-check: Lawrenceville & Bloomfield (aka “Little Italy”) blend together and are the heart of all things trendy in the ‘Burgh. The rowhouses of these two areas are filled with the majority of the city’s artists (READ: cheap rent) and are sprinkled with boutiques and restaurants. If you’re looking for nightlife of the non-skanky variety, this is your place. $$
Nuclear Family: Squirrel Hill, Regent Square, & Point Breeze are residential (almost suburban), complete with big yards, old houses, and parks. Highland Park (home to the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium) has the same family friendly vibe as these other three ‘hoods but is located to the north & is slightly more expensive. $$$
Rough Stuff: Garfield/East Liberty have reputations as being crime ridden and dangerous. There’s a small epidemic of abandoned storefronts along Penn Ave (the main drag that’s home to a few solid blocks of galleries), but Google just opened an office (lounge? funcenter? resort? those offices are insane) in East Liberty’s new shopping complex Bakery Square, so you can expect that to be a yuppie Mecca any second now. $
Now, get some Steeler’s gear and throw a few choice Pittsburghese phrases into rotation like “yinzer” or “jag off” and you’re all set! Welcome to the Paris of the Appalachians.