The City of Pittsburgh

a wooden bench along the Allegheny River, the large yellow bridge and the skyline of the city of Pittsburgh rise in the background

Photograph by Nick Foust


When Pittsburgh even passes through most Americans’ minds, it tends to be as a cloud of smog shielding the tops of skyscrapers from the dirty streets below.

Indeed, the country was built on Pittsburgh’s labors over the last century. The steel for the western railroads, later Detroit’s cars and then towers for every city in the country, it was largely crafted here. Coal dug by the hands of thousands of Pennsylvanians in neighboring small towns was fired into the electricity that powered a nation. The Pirates, the Steelers, and later the Penguins, built sports dynasties on the backs of die hard fans, Pittsburghers who understood that celebrating their victories was the small joy of a life spent breaking backs, coughing up lungs and sacrificing for a nation in times of both war and peace.

No better a defiance, no clearer tale of how loyal Pittsburghers are to their heritage can be found than through the tale of a national act to drop the “h” from all “burghs” in the nation. Around 1890, the story goes, a national committee to standardize the spelling of names across the United States deemed all “burghs” should from thereon be known as simply “burgs”. Loyal historians, perhaps everyone, rallied together against the grammatical oppression. The city’s residents pledged their allegiance to the traditional spelling, an army of German, Polish and Irish coming together to guard their home from outside dictation. Pittsburghers are, if at times incredibly rough around the edges, fiercely loyal for nearly any citywide cause.

But the days of gray skies and pollution, big industry and dirty water, they have gone. A now shining buckle on the Rust Belt, the city rose above the plight of the times to sparkle like reclaimed steel and set an example of how it’s done to neighboring Ohio and Western New York cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati and Buffalo. No other Rust Belt metropolis has managed to regain its stature of a true American gem, though, quite like this city.

Today hipsters and scientists, punk rockers and engineers, students and nurses, bicyclists and families, they all flock to the former Steel City, newly crowned as the City of Bridges (Pittsburgh has three more bridges than Venice, Italy, the original “City of Bridges”), to build a new life, to rise their city’s trees and mountains above the plight of antiquated ideas about what these neighborhoods living on three Indian-named rivers are today. The Ohio, which in Iroquois means “Great River” is fed by the Monongahela (falling banks) and Allegheny (which means “beautiful stream” or “best flowing river of the hills”), to form a Golden Triangle the city lives within and falls all around.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the upstart. It’s the unknown. Living in the city in the 2000s, I knew I was part of something. Where typically the young and adventurous migrate to places like Portland or Austin or San Francisco, they are joining something already created, a dynasty realized decades or even generations ago. Pittsburgh, for the moment anyway, offers a chance to be a factor in the change, not just a reaper of the inevitable rewards.

a quarter operated viewer, the city of Pittsburgh's yellow bridges in the background.
Photograph by Ryan Leighty
a yellow bridge spans a wide river, a glass castle rises above other buildings in the background
Photograph by Jim Orsini
a yellow bridge
Photograph by Joey Gannon
a man holding some juggling sticks runs in front of a painted school bus which reads Zany Umbrella Circus
Photograph by Chuck Schneider
an alley full of dumpsters and mud puddles, at the end an ornate gothic church rises into the sky
Photograph by Bob Jagendorf
a stick reading You Are Beautiful stuck to the side of a structure
Photograph by Todd
Photograph by David Gingrich
Photograph by Melissa Dooley
fireworks light the sky green as boats float a river in Pittsburgh
Photograph by Alan Charness
a steelers helmet sits in a field
Photograph by Andy
Heinz field, surrounded by Steelers fans, with a gloomy, thunderstorm ridden sky above
Photograph by Sean Hobson
a bicycle painted white with a sign that reads Cyclist Struck Here, its a ghost bike, commemorating a bicycle rider who died on this spot
Photograph by Todd
a red vehicle similar to a trolley, known as an inclined plane, rides a track up the mountains of Pittsburgh
Photograph by Brent Moore
domed structures rise above Pittsburgh's Hill neighborhood
Photograph by Mark Knobil
 a large, copper dome, a former train station
Photograph by Bob Jagendorf
two k of a church rise into a stormy sky
Photograph by Joey Gannon
view of downtown Pittsburgh's buildings, the three rivers, from an airplane
Photograph by David Trainer
the cathedral in Pittsburgh's oakland neighborhood rises above another brick structure
Photograph by Joey Gannon
lights illuminate downtown Pittsburgh, reflected in the Monongahela River
Photograph by Reza
shipwreck on the Ohio River
Photograph by Mike
a tower, the Cathedral of Learning, rises far above the rest of the neighborhood of Oakland in Pittsburgh
Photograph by Joey Gannon
glass towers fledged like a castle rise into the blue sky
Photograph by Sabbath Photography
vaulted ceilings in a massive reading room
Photograph by Pedro Szekely
graffiti of Super Mario jumping out of a green PVC pipe on the side of a building
Photograph by Todd
cement stairs descend the hills of Pittsburgh toward freeways, neighborhoods and a river
Photograph by David Gingrich
silhouette of skyscrapers against a setting sun sky, as seen from a distant hillside
Photograph by Rachel Johnson
train tracks lead off into the rolling hills
Photograph by Chloe Fan
a yellow bridge spans over a snow covered tree and path, the snow is deep and very white
Photograph by Jason Pratt
a city of skyscrapers along a river, illuminated in yellow, blue, green, orange, all reflecting back into the water below
Photograph by Jiuguang Wang
a bench in a park sitting under a tree, empty, but the view from which is a distant Pittsburgh skyline
Photograph by Chloe Fan