“What began as a rail hub for produce and fish has become the city’s most treasured destination for fresh food and accoutrements, all on a few gritty streets lined with specialty shops, street vendors, pubs and restaurants,” reads the NEXTPittsburgh neighborhood profile on the Strip District. “This neighborhood remains at the heart of what Pittsburgh and the region is all about.”

This half-mile stretch of town that Pittsburghers know and love was recently recognized for something we already knew: the Strip District is a top-notch neighborhood.

The Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association (PA-APA), a nonprofit community planning organization, selected communities to receive the first Great Neighborhoods Award as part of the Great Places in Pennsylvania program.

The Strip District was one of four neighborhoods in the state chosen for this distinction.

This award is given to “unique, memorable places that work not only for their community, but as a model others want to emulate—places of exemplary character, quality, planning, identity, cultural interest and community involvement with a sustainable vision for tomorrow.”

Fresh produce on Penn Ave. Photo by Rob Larson

What did the PA-APA love about the Strip? It’s Pittsburgh’s only remaining old world-style market district with wholesalers, fish and produce merchants, ethnic food shops, antique galleries and sidewalk vendors. Multigenerational family businesses and high-tech firms sit side-by-side. It’s a hub for growth with residential properties, a world-class museum, an international crafts gallery, a theater group, two historic churches and a variety of nightspots.

Plus, the APA notes the Strip’s promise for the future: it provides a captivating opportunity to explore an innovative re-imagining of urban industrial spaces.

“This recognizes the work gone into the Strip since we wrote the Neighborhood Improvement Strategy in 2000,” says Becky Rodgers, executive director of Neighbors in the Strip, “it’s been our Bible.” In the past 14 years, their efforts helped reduce crime by 75%, and now there are some 14 new major developments being built in the Strip.

Other neighborhoods to receive this distinction are Downtown West Chester, West End Theater District in Allentown and West Reading in Berks County. The PA-APA also selected three Great Public Spaces winners: Allen Street and College Avenue in State College, Race Street Pier in Philadelphia and Steel Stacks Campus in Bethlehem.

Lauri Gravina

Woods wanderer who was an an editor at New England’s regional magazine, the research director of a Colorado newspaper and a farm hand in Vermont before returning to Pittsburgh to write about and explore...