City Walkabout: Trip hits all 90 city neighborhoods

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On Sunday morning, six people in their 20s and early 30s climbed into Alex Pazuchanics' parents' van near Station Square with water and snacks and an itinerary that took 11 hours.

They arrived in the Central North Side at 1:20 p.m., not quite halfway through their "90 Neighborhood Crawl."

It was the brainchild of Mr. Pazuchanics, a policy analyst for city Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak. He said the light bulb went on one day when he was en route to Lawrenceville from his parents' home in Whitehall. He discovered he was in Glen Hazel and had barely heard of it.

"The city gets defined by its principal arteries, and yet there are all these places, and I don't know what they look like."

He floated the idea of an all-neighborhood ramble to some friends.

"I couldn't think of a better way to spend a Sunday," said Jennifer Grab, who will enter law school at Duquesne University in the fall. "When I told friends, they said, 'What a great idea! Is the van full?' "

In charting the course, Mr. Pazuchanics picked one random intersection per neighborhood off the beaten path.

"I wanted to hit streets where people live," he said. "There's a reason why people live in all these places. I might see exactly the kind of street I'd want to buy a house on."

Now a resident of Brookline, he also signed on Adam Shuck, office manager for Ms. Rudiak; Matt Barron, policy director for Councilman Bill Peduto; Nathan Mallory, owner of Cannon Coffee in Brookline; and Lauren Stoner, field director for Erin Molchany's campaign for the state House.

From Station Square they swept through the southern hilltop and western neighborhoods before crossing to the North Side. They had been to 40 neighborhoods when I met them at North Taylor and Palo Alto streets.

"We've gotten lost twice," Mr. Pazuchanics reported.

"And the lunch schedule keeps getting pushed back," Mr. Mallory said.

"We've seen two deer, four cats and 60 Virgin Mary statues," said Ms. Grab. "We've seen so many abandoned buildings. In Manchester, there's a tree growing out of a steeple."

"We talked about what you can sustainably do with these old churches," Mr. Mallory said. "If there's no investment to create a destination, the question becomes, 'What can the community use?' You can't help but look at some of these great buildings, knowing you could get one for $15,000 and wondering, 'Why aren't more people doing that?' "

"I was surprised how open everything is in places like Fairywood," Mr. Barron said. "There's amazing housing stock in neighborhoods that don't get any attention, like Allentown and Beltzhoover. And New Homestead is like going back to the suburbia of the '60s. These are places I never would have known. There are places we decided we want to go back to."

"Manchester was gorgeous," Mr. Pazuchanics said. "Its houses are stunning. It's one of the places that deserves another look."

"I think maybe some people thought we were with the FBI," Mr. Mallory said.

"Yeah," said Ms. Grab. "We're in a minivan. The door slides open, a camera comes out and then we move on."

After the tour, which wrapped up Downtown, Ms. Stoner said she had already been familiar with southern and eastern neighborhoods and so particularly enjoyed the western and northern ones. "Summer Hill, Brighton Heights, Spring Hill and Troy Hill all struck me as profoundly beautiful and unknown.

"I think the lot of our group are visionary in thought, seeing these places not just as how they were and are, but as they have the potential to be," she said.

After college in Washington, D.C., Mr. Pazuchanics returned to Pittsburgh and found a city "much different than it was even four years ago. ... D.C. is very transient, and I liked to ask people where they were from. You can ask that here now and not get 'Peters' or 'Reserve' but 'New York.' We're experiencing an influx of the kind of cohort that's going to be moving this city forward in the next 20 years."

As Pittsburgh attracts more young people, it still has many neighborhoods unfilled with happening appeal. Like an old pair of cargo pants before Velcro, Pittsburgh has some pockets that require effort to open. Six young adults made an effort. It was Neighborhoods 101, but it was a start.


Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at

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