Downtown Pittsburgh

In a new piece for Belt Magazine, Shannon Reed looks at Pittsburgh’s friendly nature—and wonders what it might mean for the future of the city.

The essay, entitled “Our Friendliness Will Save Us,” is the author’s account of moving to Pittsburgh after 14 years in Brooklyn. She was struck by the gregariousness of her new city, surprised by how often strangers would strike up conversation. “For me, what most defines Pittsburgh is the intense belief in friendliness as a social good,” writes Reed. People here are happy to let you know what they’re thinking, she says, and calls Pittsburgh “a city of relentless friendliness.”

There is another side to this, however. Reed points out that these sociable interactions sometimes turn towards bigotry and racism, and relates several stories in that vein.

“What makes these stories Pittsburghian is not that they simply occurred. Casual racism is, unfortunately, one of the currencies of many of our cities and towns, even my beloved, diverse Brooklyn. Rather, they’re Pittsburghian because the people saying such reprehensible things were always open-faced, full-throated, happy to make conversation: in short, friendly as heck.”

Reed ends on a hopeful note, however. It may indeed be possible, she writes, that the sense of interconnectedness, the feeling that we can chat with anyone, will actually bring about more understanding and unity.

“Some people love to hate, and a casual conversation at the Primanti’s counter isn’t going to change that, I know. But I do think perhaps Pittsburgh has more potential to change than any other city I know. New York has mastered tolerance, but Pittsburgh, I believe, might be able to master inclusiveness, if we just keep walking up to strangers and shooting the breeze.”

Watch for Belt Magazine in our upcoming feature on anthologies. And check out Reed’s full essay here.

Drew Cranisky

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.