Jesebel Rivera-Guerra in Greenfield. Photo by Maranie Staab.

These days, a story like Jamie Sylves’ is hardly uncommon: When the North Braddock native came back to Pittsburgh, needing a neighborhood to call her own, she cast about, found the Strip District, and fell in love.

“The Asian and Middle Eastern markets are great,” she says. “So is the bike path right behind our apartment. My husband and I bought bikes to explore it.

“I also like that gritty city feel,” she says. “That’s the Pittsburgh I knew growing up. But it’s not the same now. Now Pittsburgh feels new all the time.”

Like Jamie, these Pittsburghers below have found that changing your location in the city—even if you’ve lived here your whole life—can give you a new perspective on your long-time home. A new neighborhood works its way into your identity. A community for your family is suddenly found. The value of crossing boundaries is discovered.

Here are 11 of your neighbors who’ve moved around Pittsburgh and learned unexpected things about the city, and themselves.

Lauri Fink: From the North Hills to Wilkinsburg

Hillman Family Foundations Senior Program Officer Lauri Fink grew up in the North Hills, moved away, came back, lived in the South Hills, and is now in Wilkinsburg, about which she waxes rhapsodic. “The South Hills was fine,” she says, “but I wanted to be closer to everything I do—work and the outdoors.” She has three dogs and enjoys kayaking, hiking, biking and running. “What sealed the deal for me was the neighborhood feel—that I quickly knew everyone on the street. Everyone was so welcoming. And,” she adds, “it didn’t hurt that I got a lot more house for my money.”

Fink also found “a lot of things that suited my personality. Access—I can be anywhere in 15 minutes. That we have a great number of cultural amenities—museums and theaters, cool scrappy smaller arts organizations. What most surprised me was that Wilkinsburg felt like an old-time neighborhood. Every time I said I wanted to get involved, someone introduced me to somebody who could help. That’s the way things used to be. Here, they still are.”

So much so, in fact, she says, that “everybody I’ve met so far is working to make it a better place. Even my landlord wrote into my lease that I have to do so many hours of community service every month. Who else does that?”

Brandon Ciampaglia: From Beechview to Brookline

Communications guru, graphic designer and diehard hockey fan Brandon Ciampaglia took a long day’s journey getting to Brookline. Born in Beechview, bouncing to Mt. Washington, Allentown, Mt. Lebanon and Dormont, he and his wife wound up buying in Brookline. “My home has always been Pittsburgh,” he says. “This place defines me, my love of food and culture, my dedication to my family and friends.”

Renters who wanted to be owners, the Ciampaglias’ American Dream “was a place to call our own and make it feel like us,” he recalls. “You don’t have that luxury when renting.”

They found the right place for the right price in Brookline. “I was very familiar with it,” he says. “Some of our best friends own homes here, so when we came looking, we found it was the right fit for us. The prices were great, and it’s full of young families.”

The Ciampaglias also reaped other dividends. “We were surprised to find how friendly everyone’s been,” he says, “and how quiet the neighborhood is. At night, you wouldn’t know that Downtown and its traffic are just over the hill!”

Still, living there means more than that. “What matters most,” he says, “is coming home every day and being a part of a community that never judges, threatens or bullies. Brookline accommodates, complements, and enhances. That’s really cool.”

Desiree S. Lee: From Wilkinsburg to Sheraden

For Wilkinsburg native Desiree S. Lee, life revolves around walking, being outside and traveling to sunny places like San Diego or Senegal.

Back home, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater manager of community programs loves Pittsburgh’s character—the hills and trees, the active, thriving arts community, the neighborhoods.

As an adult, Lee lived in Brighton Heights and loved it. “People didn’t intrude,” she says, “but they always made me feel welcome. And they always made me feel safe.”

But Lee’s North Side life ended when she got married and moved to her husband’s home in Sheraden. There, she discovered “beaucoup children in a very residential neighborhood,” Lee says. Emphasis on residential. “It doesn’t even have small stores or coffee shops,” she says. “It’s like a forgotten neighborhood, and that’s a good thing because it gives me a little peace away from the hustle and bustle of things. It’s a country feel inside the city.”

Lee also likes Sheraden’s legendary stability. “A lot of houses are still owned by families that have been here 40 years or more,” she says. “With so many changes in the city, it’s nice to be where people have ownership in a neighborhood. Where people say good morning, check on the kids, look out for each other on the street.

“And with the West End Overlook close by,” she adds, “we’ve got the most beautiful view of the city!”

Samantha Hartzman in Frick Park. Photo by Maranie Staab.

Samantha Hartzman: From Observatory Hill to Squirrel Hill

When Samantha Hartzman was growing up on Observatory Hill and attending Schenley High School, many of her friends lived in the East End. So when the women’s entrepreneur advocate (Invest in Her), food blogger (Haute Pepper Bites) and BNY Mellon social responsibility officer moved back to Pittsburgh, she “was immediately drawn to that part of the city,” she says. After renting in Point Breeze and seeing too many fixer-uppers to buy, she and her husband “found the perfect house in Squirrel Hill.”

“I love it,” Hartzman says. “The neighborhood is great for exploring the city. Living here has helped me see what our city has to offer. I can get anywhere in 20 minutes—it’s a great fit for urban and rural experiences. Downtown for work. Homestead for shopping and movies.”

And she doesn’t always need a car. “I love to walk,” Hartzman adds, “and Squirrel Hill is very walkable. I can walk to Frick Park and to Forbes Avenue for coffee. I like architecture and found a lot of different houses here. It’s also more of a mixed bag of people than before. That’s great.”

So is the change in Pittsburgh. “Living in Squirrel Hill has helped me see growth in our communities,” she says, “because of the uptick in our university and healthcare systems, in the startup community. It’s great being a part of that.”

Mary Alice Gorman: From everywhere to Shadyside

For retired English teacher, former nonprofit manager and defrocked bookstore owner Mary Alice Gorman, moving to Fifth Avenue was the proverbial no-brainer. East side, west side, all around the town, the Pittsburgh native had lived just about everywhere—South Side Slopes, Morningside, Highland Park. Finally, she sold the empty nest and picked up stakes for Shadyside. “It was time,” she says.

Swapping a four-bedroom manse for a two-bedroom condo, she fell for Shadyside’s great walkability. “I love the trees and the sidewalks,” she says, “the change of seasons. I love walking to Mellon Park. To Walnut Street for gelato and ice cream. I love sitting on a bench and talking with people. Shadyside,” Gorman adds, “is a lot different than it was when I was in high school. It’s changed with the times.”

One change she adores “is the diversity,” Gorman says. “There are so many different kinds of people living and visiting here. People walk here 24/7—seniors, students, dog walkers. I just thrive on that.”

Then there are unexpected dividends. “Living on Fifth Avenue,” she adds, “I can recognize every emergency vehicle without ever placing eyes on it. They all have different sounds.”

Another bonus: “There’s not a lot of room for cars here,” Gorman says. “So I’ve learned how to parallel park like a son of a bitch.”

Anne Caffee: From Mt. Lebanon to the Point Breeze/Regent Square/Wilkinsburg trifecta

Freelance writer and editor and grant writer for the nonprofit Casa San Jose, Anne Caffee moved to Pittsburgh from Western New York when she married, and stayed when the marriage went south. “It was my kids’ home,” she says, “and my home. I loved Pittsburgh the moment I saw it. I loved the hills. As an inveterate angler, I loved the fly fishing. And the people were so friendly. Open. No nonsense.”

After raising her children in Mt. Lebanon, Caffee was ready for something completely different. Something close to Frick Park, where she loves to walk her dog. Close to Pamela’s, where she loves the traditional breakfasts. Close to the East End Food Co-op, where the organics are to die for. “I looked at rental properties and moved to the intersection of Point Breeze, Regent Square and Wilkinsburg,” she says.

Coming for location, Caffee quickly discovered “the diversity of the people who live here,” she says. “There’s a wonderful variety—all ages, all incomes, all races, all persuasions. I like that. I like living in a place that’s reflective of America.”

In addition, Caffee adds, “I can be in the woods in an hour, trout fishing at dusk. Or just looking at the beauty of the rivers—and the way the row houses hug the landscape. I never get tired of that. Never.”

Matthew Stidle outside Uncle Bill’s in Troy Hill. Photo by Maranie Staab.
Matthew Stidle outside Uncle Bill’s in Troy Hill. Photo by Maranie Staab.

Matthew Stidle: From Mount Oliver to Troy Hill

For assistant Pittsburgh City Solicitor Matthew Stidle, the trek to Troy Hill was motivated by affordability. Trying Friendship and Lawrenceville (before the arts), he and his wife needed an affordable abode. With both his father and grandfather from Troy Hill, Stidle, who grew up in Mount Oliver, was familiar with it. When a house became available, it was kismet.

“The more we looked at it,” Stidle says, “the price was right and the neighborhood was charming. We liked the return to my working class roots and the neighborhood’s upward trajectory. Plus, being in a tight-knit community has been perfect for us. It’s like an urban Mayberry—I’ve never known so many people in my entire life.”

“Since we’ve moved here,” he adds, “I’ve found that the North Side is a whole new world to discover. There’s isolation and convenience at the same time. These days, shifting demographics transformed Troy Hill into a microcosm of the city. And because of the topography it’s never going to become the new Lawrenceville—and therefore people will not be priced out of here. So I’m sure that diversity will remain, which is good.”

“In fact,” Stidle adds, “Troy Hill seems like a textbook example of two distinct forces coming together: the past and the future. Genuine quality of life improvements will come out of that interplay. I like that.”

Abby Mendelson

Abby Mendelson is a veteran Pittsburgh writer and reporter. A novelist and short-story writer, he is also the author of numerous Pittsburgh-related books, including Arena: Remembering the Igloo, Pittsburgh: A Place in Time, Pittsburgh Prays: Thirty-Six Houses of Worship, Pittsburgh Born, Pittsburgh Bred, and The Pittsburgh Steelers Official History. As a journalist, he has written on countless subjects in a wide variety of publications, local and national, print as well as electronic.