Pittsburgh Mythbusters

by Michael Nizankiewicz, PhD, an AOL Travel ContributorPosted Sep 23rd 2010 07:17 PM

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Pittsburgh Mythbusters

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First, I must confess that, while I no longer live in Pittsburgh, I am a native and I still love that city.

Despite the fact that "The Burg" went through its first renaissance in the late 1940s to clean up its air and beautify the city, it amazes me how many people still believe the Pittsburgh urban myth that this is a dirty city laden with smoke-belching steel mills. So, let's clarify a few misconceptions with these Pittsburgh mythbusters: Myth: Pittsburgh is a dirty city.

Pittsburgh Mythbuster Fact: Pittsburgh lost its smog from the fiery steel mills in the early 1970s, making this urban legend false. The city imposed strict regulations on the two biggest steel producers, Jones & Laughlin and US Steel. In fact, US Steel was smacked with a $1 million fine for its pollutants around that time. The Pittsburgh skyline has impressive glass and steel skyscrapers that make the city look much bigger than it is (just over 300,000 inhabitants in the city proper).

Myth: Pittsburgh is the #1 producer of steel and steel is the #1 industry of that city.

Pittsburgh Mythbuster Fact: It certainly was at one time, but no more. Pittsburgh lost its title as the #1 producer of steel to Japan, who was able to produce it at a cheaper cost, including global shipping. One reason was certainly labor costs. In the early 1970s, Pittsburgh's steel workers were the highest paid blue-collar workers in the nation with an annual salary well in excess of $30,000 per year. Not a bad take at that time. The steel mills are long gone and in their place are shopping meccas and casinos.

As an aside, I graduated from college in 1971, at a time when America was in a pretty deep recession. After two months of trying to find a professional position with my degree, I wound up driving a Yellow Cab in Pittsburgh. One morning I picked up three Japanese businessmen at the Pittsburgh Hilton. The only one who spoke English was the one in my front seat who instructed me to drive to the various steel mills where the two in the back took multiple photos with their expensive cameras.

When I dropped them back at the hotel, I called my dispatcher, reported the curious fares and suggested that this be reported to the authorities, since it certainly looked like corporate espionage. The dispatcher (who I swear was the prototype for Louie De Palma in the TV Series "Taxi") told me to just blow it off, which I did. To this day, I can't help but feel somewhat responsible for the decline of Pittsburgh's and America's steel producing dominance.

Another Pittsburgh Mythbuster Fact: With the decline of the steel industry, Pittsburgh went through a successful transformation from a blue-collar mill town to a white-collar corporate center where eight of the Fortune 500 companies now call home. They include PPG Industries, PNC Financial Services, US Steel, H.J. Heinz, Mylan Laboratories, Dick's Sporting Goods, WESCO International and CONSOL Energy.

Pittsburgh continues its evolution and has now become a major health-care center. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is now the city's largest employer with over 48,000 employees. In fact, UPMC has now taken over the signage of what used to be the corporate headquarters of US Steel and, at 64 stories, the tallest building in Pittsburgh.

Myth: Pittsburgh is not a very green city.

Pittsburgh Mythbuster Fact: The Pittsburgh Convention Center was the first "green" convention center in America and has won awards for its energy conserving design, making this Pittsburgh urban myth false. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in the Oakland area of the city is a must-see for any conservation enthusiast.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, 700 Frank Curto Dr, Pittsburgh, PA 15213;
9:30AM-5PM daily, until 10PM Fri; Adults $12, Seniors (62 & older) $11, Students with valid ID $11, Children 2-18 $9, Under 2 Free

Myth: Pittsburgh is not a very cultural city.

Pittsburgh Mythbuster Fact: Ok, I can understand why some may have that perception considering the well-publicized, rugged defense of six-time Super Bowl Champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, Pittsburgh is also at the top of its game with the world-class Pittsburgh Symphony and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

A few years ago, I took my family to see the Nutcracker at Heinz Hall. The performance was spectacular, and the Pittsburgh Ballet spent in excess of $1 million on costumes alone. And museums? I can't keep track since there are so many, including the Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History, Frick Art and Historical Center, Carnegie Science Center, which, during the month of December has one of the most incredible model train layouts I have ever seen, and the Bayernhof Music Museum to name just a few.

Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., Pittsburgh, PA 15212; 412-237-8300; Sun, Sat and Tue-Thu 10AM-5PM, Fri 10AM-10PM, closed Mon; Adults $15, Children $8

Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History, 4400 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213; 412-622-3131; Tue-Sat 10AM-5PM, Thu 10AM-8PM, Sun noon-5PM, closed Mon; Adults $15, Seniors $12, Students/Children $11, Children under 3 free
Frick Art and Historical Center, 7227 Reynolds St., Pittsburgh, PA 15208; 412-371-0600; Tue-Sun 10AM-5PM, closed Mon; free

Carnegie Science Center, One Allegheny Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212; 412-237-3400; Sun-Fri 10AM-5PM, Sat 10AM-7PM; Adults $17.95, Children $9.95

Pittsburgh holds many nicknames including "The Steel City", "The City of Bridges", "The Burg" and "The Paris of Appalachia." When I thought about the last one, having visited Paris several times, I had to agree.

Paris is often referred to as the "City of Lights" with plenty of romance. Pittsburgh also has both, especially when you visit the Mount Washington area at night and enjoy the restaurants that overlook the city. My personal favorite, especially since its prices are very reasonable, is The Cliffside on Grandview Avenue. The name of this avenue is appropriate once you've experienced the view. My favorite item at The Cliffside is the Shrimp Scampi. If you want to really experience the feeling of "Paris," order the Steak Tartar. The Cliffside is one of the very few restaurants that offer such gastronomical fare.

For a pricier restaurant with a top-notch menu, go a few doors east to the LeMont.

Regardless of your choice of restaurants, any Grandview Avenue window seat at night gives you a romantic rush as you overlook the shining city lights.

Pittsburgh is a great town with friendly inhabitants who love this city as much as I do. Just don't walk around wearing Baltimore Ravens or Dallas Cowboy apparel.

The Cliffside, 1208 Grandview Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15211; 412-431-6996

LeMont, 1114 Grandview Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15211; 412-431-3100

Hopefully these Pittsburgh mythbusters will clear up any misconceptions before your next trip to our city. We look forward to seeing you!

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