Ask a Pittsburgher about growing up here and you’re likely to get stories about trekking up rickety city steps, riding the Duquesne Incline or a Kennywood coaster, or visiting Downtown on a winter’s night to see department store holiday windows.
Pittsburgh’s livability just gets better and better. The city has risen from “up-and-coming” to one of “the best” on all sorts of rankings, becoming a choice destination for visitors, retirees, young families, and new college grads.
For good reason. Look around, and you’ll find this city known for its firsts—from Ferris wheel to polio vaccine to internet emoticon–added many attractions over the past decade as it changed with the times.
“You don’t feel it necessarily while it’s happening, but when you look back 10 years, you really begin to appreciate how Pittsburgh has transformed, and what a vital and dynamic place it has become,” says Bill Flanagan of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
“Ten years is not a long time, but wow, what you can accomplish when you set your mind to it. It’s pretty impressive. I think the message is, ‘If you want things to be better, get started—plunge in.’”
Here are 10 things that weren’t in Pittsburgh just 10 years ago:
Schenley Plaza (2006)
The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy calls its grand entrance to Schenley Park “Oakland’s green oasis.” Located between the Carnegie and Hillman libraries, the Cathedral of Learning and the Frick Fine Arts Building, the one-time parking lot was restored in 2006. The five acres include a sweeping green lawn, lush gardens with plenty of benches, a row of dining kiosks with tables and chairs rimming the perimeter of the lawn, the charming gilded PNC Carousel, a tented area, and free fitness, family and entertainment programs.
In 2008, the Conservancy finished a second phase by restoring the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain. A full-service restaurant, the modern and attractive Porch at Schenley with its outdoor stone fireplace opened in the plaza in 2011.
Nearby, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the park’s horticulture hub, completed a major restoration in October. With sustainable buildings and its educational programming, Phipps is a leader in green innovation and its Center for Sustainable Landscapes is a knockout.
August Wilson Center for African American Culture (2009)
The nonprofit arts organization had a difficult start, from its conception in 1996 as a museum to bring the National NAACP Convention to Pittsburgh, and for years after its September 2009 opening. But now the $40 million center on Liberty Avenue, named for Pulitzer Prize-winning Hill District playwright August Wilson and built to resemble a sleek modern ship, is staging a cultural comeback.
A group of foundations bought it from mortgage holder Dollar Bank in 2014, and The Cultural Trust now oversees bookings for the 486-seat performing arts center with its multiple exhibit galleries, classroom and event space.
“Pittsburgh has such a rich history, and August Wilson shared his personal story and Pittsburgh’s with the world,” says Janera Solomon, executive director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, who led the charge to salvage the center. She encourages people “to come together to contribute to our cultural legacy with music, dance, storytelling and art. . . . Our cultural community is an important part of the city’s growth, and a center that brings people together matters.”
Market Square (2010)
It’s hard to imagine what the European-style Market Square was like before the extensive renovation that began in 2009. Today the appeal of the revived public square is evident in the day and night buzz emanating from the many tables in the plaza to the streetside spill from packed restaurants like Sienna on the Square, Il Pizzaiolo and Poros.
Market Square is the beating heart of downtown and a social and cultural hub enlivened with music and events—like the farmers market every Thursday—and public art installations (the latest was a giant record player/jukebox). With historic buildings and gorgeous facades—Nicholas Coffee, for one—and now condos and apartments popping up around it, Market Square has been a boon for Downtown and is now a must-see destination. Luckily for Downtown workers and residents, it’s also a daily stop in their routine, from the Market Square Grocery which offers a superb cup of joe, to the always-packed Starbucks.
Consol Energy Center (2010)
The $321 million, multipurpose indoor arena built for the Penguins opened Aug. 18, 2010—in time for the 2010-11 NHL season and with a performance by Paul McCartney—and immediately won praise from concert-goers.
The arena that replaced the 1961 Civic Arena (Mellon Arena) was designed to be “fan-friendly,” with four points of entry, ADA accessibility, comfortable seating and multiple concession stands to avoid long lines. Consol Energy Inc. bought the naming rights in 2008. The seating capacity for hockey is 18,387 and during playoff games, thousands of fans congregate in the street to watch on the Penguins’ large, outdoor screen.
The University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University have dedicated locker rooms in the arena for their basketball teams. On Aug. 4, British band Coldplay is scheduled to bring its Head Full of Dreams Tour to the arena, and rapper Drake will bring the Summer Sixteen Tour with Future and special guests Aug. 17.
Bakery Square (2010)
Bakery Square, a $130 million development on a site that once housed a Nabisco baking factory and now houses Google, has helped shape Pittsburgh’s new urban aesthetic. Developers Gregg Perelman and Todd Reidbord of Walnut Capital emphasize amenities for young professionals who want an active, social lifestyle. Besides Google, they brought UPMC, TechShop, Autodesk, Pitt, Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute, and many retailers to the former brownfield that now has platinum LEED certification, solar panels, and electric vehicle charging stations. Not to mention chicken coops and beehives.
At Bakery Square 2.0 across Penn Avenue, where Reizenstein Middle School once stood, the second of two luxury apartment complexes just opened.
“I’m inspired to build community-focused places that my three daughters would want to live in. Bakery Square has become one of those places,” says Perelman. “We pay attention to every creative detail, whether it’s public parties or programming that gets millennials together around live music, exercise or food trucks. We’ve created a dynamic, innovative, environmentally-friendly space.”