The Perks And Pitfalls: What It’s Really Like To Live In Downtown Pittsburgh
A Point Park University senior shares the unfiltered truth about living in the center of the Golden Triangle.
After growing up in a small town in Eastern Pennsylvania, I was excited to live in a big city such as Pittsburgh. But the allure of urban life can wear off quickly. Downtown Pittsburgh has been my home for three years now, and I’ve come to realize that every perk often comes with a pitfall.
Pro: You’re Never Alone
In the middle of the day or night, it’s rare that the streets are empty. And while many may find this intimidating, the constant accompaniment of people has actually provided a feeling of safety for me.
Many see big cities as danger zones and avoid them out of fear. While this is statistically true (more people = more crime), I feel safer walking through the city as opposed to walking through a remote area.
Whether it be one of my many neighbors, a security guard standing outside a nearby building or passing pedestrians, I know I won’t ever face the fear of being in a dangerous situation alone. I have peace of mind knowing there are plenty of helping hands nearby.
It’s also easy to walk outside and feel less lonely as you’ll notice other people on the sidewalks.
Con: You’re Never Alone
No matter how many floors up you may live, you often can hear everything down below — a reminder that you’re never alone. There’s no telling what will disturb your peace on any given day or hour.
While I prefer a bit of background noise, there are many instances when the noise makes me long for silence. The roar of more than 20 motorcycles passing, megaphone chants from early morning protesters and karaoke singers belting outside my window with a microphone are just a few of the disturbances I’ve experienced.
The most common disturbance: obnoxiously loud construction. You should have an excellent pair of noise-canceling headphones in case construction at 8 a.m. rattles your walls.
Sure, you can turn on music or TV to drown the noise, but disruption often strikes during moments you can’t avoid, such as when you’re sleeping or during a Zoom call. If you choose city life, don’t leave anything out of the realm of possibilities.
Pro: You Never Run Too Late
Living Downtown, I’ve had numerous jobs within a 5-minute walk. It’s a luxury being so close to everything with no need to worry about driving time, traffic or detours. I’ve grown accustomed to leaving my door 5 minutes before I need to be somewhere, enjoying the ease of walking everywhere without many obstacles.
With countless food options, doctors’ offices, drug stores, hair salons, activities and campus being steps away, city living complements my fast-paced lifestyle wonderfully.
Your computer screen breaks right before a presentation? There’s an electronic repair shop around the corner that will fix it up in a few minutes. You forgot it’s your friend’s birthday? Stop by Five Below on Smithfield Avenue on your way over. You’re running early? Stop for a quick coffee on your way to class.
Not having a car may seem inconvenient to non-city dwellers, but having one in the Golden Triangle can actually be more trouble than it’s worth with parking costs, one-way streets and endless stoplights. I’ve lived in ease without a car since I moved Downtown.
Con: You Can Never Run Too Late
Living in Downtown can be a double-edged sword. It’s convenient when you need quick fixes such as a broken computer screen or oversleeping, but there are downsides.
For one, most places have limited hours. Forget about stepping out after 8 p.m. You might assume that 24/7 convenience stores such as 7-Eleven would save the day, but not Downtown. Even your trusty suburban Target, open until 10 p.m. elsewhere, shuts its doors early in the city center.
Experiencing Downtown in the summer is truly special. The city blooms and comes alive, turning into a completely different city than in the winter.
The barren trees and plants turn into bright and colorful scenes. There are more people on the streets enjoying the weather, attending Pirates games and the big free festivals such as Picklesburgh and the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Because you’re already Downtown, you don’t have to fight all the extra traffic or pay the exorbitant parking fees that are often boosted for special events.
In addition, the rooftop available to tenants in your building finally opens for sunbathing and relaxing.
Market Square offers games such as massive Connect-4 or chess, Yoga on the Square, Night Markets, concerts, Thursday’s farmers markets and tables and chairs to enjoy lunch from any of Market Square’s grub options.
Even without events, the city bustles with people who come Downtown to enjoy the weather, walk through Point State Park or along the riverfronts and to take advantage of the outdoor seating.
Yinzers are accustomed to harsh Pittsburgh winters, but living Downtown takes winter to another level. The corridors of tall buildings serve as wind tunnels, amplifying the cold blasts, often making walks to work or the grocery store extremely uncomfortable.
The convenience of commuting on foot loses its appeal when waiting for a bus in a blizzard or walking to work in freezing temperatures. The only perk to living Downtown during a snowstorm is that you don’t have to shovel yourself, and the sidewalks and roads are cleared quickly.
Concerns over the unhoused population become even harsher in the winter. While we all wish for everyone to have warm shoes, gloves and blankets, the unfortunate reality is that not everyone has access to such necessities. Your walks to work become a bitter reminder of this reality.
Oh, and there are no farmers markets, festivals or free outdoor activities — just people hurrying to their destinations as quickly as possible. Summer slips by, but winter seems to last forever.
Pro: Apartment Living
Apartment living is an inevitable part of city life, and having a high-rise home in the Golden Triangle comes with many benefits, beyond the stunning views.
It has provided me with a safety net that a house in other neighborhoods or the suburbs don’t provide. Downtown apartments often have a building security guard to provide safety to tenants and prevent non-tenants from entering. Even those without a guard will require several forms of entry, such as a key fob for the front door and elevator. There is also a sense of safety provided from your nearby neighbors.
Many complexes come with amenities, too. I’ve lived in apartments with rooftop seating, pools and tenant events, which are great opportunities to meet new people. Most complexes provide free Wi-Fi, and some include utilities, which makes the inflated price of city living more appealing.
Con: Apartment Living
If you live Downtown, apartments are your only option.
The first big cost is, well – the cost. The average monthly rent for a studio apartment in Downtown Pittsburgh is $1,393, according to a 2022 report by Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. However, outside Downtown in a city neighborhood such as Squirrel Hill, the average rent for a studio apartment is $995, according to a 2023 report by Zumper.
While this is just the reality of city living, the price isn’t always worth the convenience. Not every Downtown apartment has the stellar amenities in an expected “luxury”-listed apartment. You might encounter — like I did — a half-working dishwasher, cabinets falling off the hinges or a leaking washing machine. And consider yourself lucky if the building is graced with a working, trusted elevator.
The walls can be very thin, so you’re subjected to next-door’s noise. Oh, and your rent will probably increase every year without warning. For some, the convenience is worth all the inconveniences, but don’t expect anything truly “luxury.”
Pittsburgh, it’s been quite the ride. City life has provided me with countless opportunities for growth and exploration, but as I approach the end of my college journey, I find myself longing for some time in a slower pace and quieter existence …
I’m headed toward the beautiful outskirts of Pittsburgh after graduation, and while this may be a farewell to Downtown, the allure of city living will always pull me back in. One day, I’ll have a memoir to write about what it’s like to live Downtown in the heart of a different city.