Habitat Hunting

Last Thursday we planned this last-minute trip to Pittsburgh for the purpose of finding a home. The reasons for the trip being last minute are complicated and not that interesting, so I’ll just say that we left within 24 hours of deciding to go (frequent flyer miles come in handy for such flights) and by Saturday morning we had three appointments lined up for showings.

I really thought the first place would be The One, judging by the pictures in the ad, its location on google maps, and its walkability score. My husband had been skeptical about the accuracy of www.walkscore.com, and this has indeed been an interesting test of its usefulness for relocating to a new city. It’s true that nothing can replace seeing a neighborhood with your own eyes and wandering through it on your own two feet.

The first place was in the South Side Slopes, a neighborhood that surpasses Manayunk and Roxborough in steepness of hills and narrowness of streets. Although one thing we missed a lot in Houston – the flattest city ever – was topography, this place is a bit intense. Adding to its detractors was that the (albeit awesome) house itself was a bit farther from the main drag than I prefer. The nail in the coffin was that, upon further consideration, the main drag itself, East Carson Street, is not one I want to be near on weekends. (In Philly terms, which I should probably stop using, I’d compare it to South Street and Old City combined, with a little bit of Delaware Avenue.) I think that I assumed there were other pockets of commerce and activity in the area, but Carson Street is pretty much it. 

After ruling that out, we had high hopes for the North Side, specifically the Mexican War Streets area. The place we looked at here was probably the best value in terms of amenities and space,  and it is a really lovely area with small, historic homes. In the 2 or 3 hours we spent in the neighborhood before and after the showing, we visited the one coffeeshop and the one pub. Before having finished our second beer, we realized how trapped we might feel having only these two establishments within walking distance. And worse, what if we hated all the regulars, or they hated us? It was a risk we were not willing to take. (The YMCA here did not have enough weight to tip the scales, unfortunately.)

By now, we had visited Butler Street, which was written up in the New York Times as a notable hub of revitalization (or gentrification, or whatever). Can I just say that acting upon the word of such sources is vaguely embarrassing? Especially for some one who values learning a place more organically? Perhaps this is why Lawrenceville was not higher on our list upon arrival. After seeing the South Side and North Side (which are, for the record, really lovely places – just not right for us right now), on the list it went.

This was all on Saturday. Yeah. Long day.

On Sunday we saw one place in Shadyside, which is probably the most convenient area to live without a car, except that (here come more Philly references, sorry!) it was like University City without any West Philly. That is to say, it is a very well-kept neighborhood with old trees and lovely architecture and plenty of cultural and commercial amenities, but it is a bit expensive and – I’ll just come out and say it – overrun with students. It was hands-down the most familiar-feeling place I’ve been in Pittsburgh, which sort of counts for something but I’m not sure what. Maybe Shadyside does have some equivalent to West Philly, the neighborhood where I lived as a student and as a young(er than I am now) professional, and where a lot of my family and friends still live, a place influenced by the nearby universities but still very much its own community. Anyway, Shadyside: I will be back for dinner sometime soon, but I will not rent in you this year.

(I’m remembering now that we did not look around much in East Liberty or Friendship, which were probably good candidates. We did not have a whole lot of time.)

Back in Lawrenceville, or perhaps Bloomfield, we saw one place that was flatly misadvertised as a two-bedroom when it was a weird, sort-of-one-bedroom bachelor pad, which still contained the possessions and stale odor of the current bachelor tenant. After that, we found a beautiful place in a great location, but the husband and I were not on the same page about its price and its size. The next day, we saw two more in Lawrenceville, and I was sufficiently convinced that the too-big, too-expensive place was special. Also, I was tired of looking. So we applied for that and will be moving there in a few weeks.

It’s pretty clear that I will not have time to do a massive purge of clutter and pantry items. Things are moving along at a brisk pace. More later!

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