City Guide: Best of the 'Burbs

City-centric? Here’s a compass to lead you on a journey to some happening suburban communities — north, south, east and west.

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From sidewalks to wide-open spaces, from funky to formal, there are as many varieties of suburban living as there are ways to mow your lawn. Long the preserve of young families with kids in tow, our comfortable local suburbs are evolving to meet new tastes and trends.

Whether it’s access to suburban business campuses (like Canonsburg or Cranberry), state of the art recreation centers (Upper St. Clair), walkable new street grids (hello, Newbury!) or friendly new cafes (Dormont, we’re looking at you), communities close to the city put distinctive stamps on the old lush-lawn and white-bread stereotype.

The bad news: Yes, you might have to cross the river. The good news: There are friendly towns to suit every lifestyle. Here’s a guide to a few gems.

New homes rise on the border of Treesdale Golf and Country Club.

As Cranberry Commons fills up, so does Richland. Allegheny County’s fastest-growing area and its highest ridgeline is home to Westinghouse nuclear engineers working just over the Butler County line as well as the new campus of Chatham University at Eden Hall Farm. One sign of growth: The LEED-certified Eden Hall Upper Elementary School already enrolls 1,000 fourth- to sixth-graders.

“This place has a history as a rural retreat for wealthy Pittsburghers,” says Mike Novak, a native who’s operated his restaurant, The Pines Tavern, on Bakerstown Road for 31 years. “The Babcock family, the Trees, the Muellers [an H.J. Heinz executive]—the residents were very prominent.”

Forty years ago, recalls Novak, “it was a less sophisticated place. We liked to say we were in the middle of nowhere, but on the edge of everything. Now I can be downtown [via I-79] in half an hour, but it’s semi-rural.”

Chatham University’s new School of Sustainability and the Environment takes advantage of the agrarian ethos. Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell, a Kansas City firm that was named last year’s AIA Architect of the Year, designed the new campus on the site of the former Eden Hall Farm.

The Pines Tavern offers easygoing outdoor dining and the perfect atmosphere for a summer night.Bob Berkebile, FAIA/Principal at BNIM who originated the LEED standards for the U.S. Green Building Council, has said the site (a hilltop source of two streams) inspired the design. “Our plan starts at the headwaters—two streams [that are] ephemeral on site,” he says. “Treating every drop of water that falls as a precious resource and using that as a guiding principle changes the community equation, the educational research and the whole sense of reconnecting ourselves with nature.”

The plan that BNIM developed with Andropogon,  landscape architects from Philadelphia, calls for smart buildings well beyond LEED standards, demonstration projects for hydroponics and organic agriculture, and regenerated forests and waterways—as well as restaurants, theaters and public art.

The Pine-Richland School District’s new upper-elementary school, with plenty of natural light and energy efficiencies, meets national green-building standards. Novak, a former school-board member, says that reflects local values.

“It’s more West Coast than East Coast. It’s aware of its environment,” he says. “The district has a mission—it offers something different for someone moving in to the area.” Novak also sees the Butler County border as “an economic powerhouse” for the region, with university and scientific brainpower.

Richland Township grew 20 percent in the past decade as families purchased large, secluded homes among its farms and gleaming, contemporary churches. With growth, though, come challenges: Additional commuters and school buses have created more traffic along its two-lane roads, particularly Route 910 (Wexford Road) because the area’s major shopping district sits at the merge point for I-79 in Cranberry Township.

The township has already completed a master plan with adjacent Middlesex Township that balances the preservation of green space with new development.

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