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Why I moved to Pittsburgh

I thought about the phrase: “You can’t go home again” during a recent trek through Frick Park on a preposterously beautiful early March day with my wife, 12-year-old daughter and Charlie, our brand new puppy.

Enveloped by steep hillsides and wooded trails, I marveled at the notion that we were walking within Pittsburgh city limits.
When had I last ventured down here? Was it really thirty years ago during a middle school field trip?

In June 2010, I moved home to Pittsburgh after 22 years. My wife, Donna, and I had grown weary of Detroit; the newspaper business was exciting, yet taxing, and the foreclosure crisis caused the property value of our city home to spiral. Rampant crime and the safety of our two young daughters also played a major role.

In summary, I quit the Detroit Free Press after 11 years as a reporter and got a marketing job at Chorus Call, a Monroeville telecommunications company. Donna and I put our Detroit home, which we bought in 2001 for $143,000, on the market with little hopes of selling it. A short-sale got us out from ownership of the Detroit property about six months later, with a credit hit. That’s an entirely different, frustrating story. The house sold for $35,000.

Which brings me back to Frick Park and Pittsburgh: It’s amazing that I still discover or rediscover new nooks and crannies of this region, at my age, almost on a weekly basis.

This is a town where you can rent kayaks on the north shore and paddle on to the three rivers. I did this on a sweltering day last summer and jokingly asked a boater for a frosty can of Yuengling. Not only did he oblige, he jumped into the Allegheny and swam it over to me.

I frequently wow out-of town guests with a cheap ride on one of the inclines and a subsequent vista view of downtown. I even toured the Frick mansion in February – I was tired of wondering what it looked like on the inside.

One of my biggest fears about dragging my family here was the possible self-perception of me trying to recapture something intangible or attempting to relive youthful memories.

But this place has changed, and, in most ways, for the better.

For example: several business meetings have taken me inside the Pittsburgh Technology Council building, which sites with other new office buildings along 2nd Avenue on the Monongahela at the site of the former J&L steel mill.The river trails give the region an entirely new vibe.  In-town developments, like the new Target in East Liberty and Bakery Square plaza, home to Google, allow residents to beam with civic pride.  And my childhood neighborhood, Highland Park, which had a pizza joint and a CoGo’s during my teenage years, now has a Thai restaurant; coffee shop and several other swanky places to dine.
I conquered mundane winter nights by joining an ice hockey club at Schenley Park. 

I keep fit jogging through town with the Square Run Club on Sunday mornings. And then there’s “book club,” a monthly male-bonding gathering at various taverns – like Dunning’s or Hough’s - sans books.

Jordan, 12, and Chloe, 9, quickly got over their moving heartbreaks and embraced new classmates and teachers at Sacred Heart Elementary School.  Jordan helped found a school environmental club and Chloe excelled on the third grade instructional basketball team. Donna, who had a medical billing job in Detroit, found full-time work within months in a similar position at UPMC on the South Side.

Renting a home in Edgewood gave me the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of Regent Square, an area I rarely visited while growing up. Now, it’s probably my favorite neighborhood in the region. Chloe got a taste of civics last fall when we accompanied a neighbor to an Edgewood Borough Council meeting to complain about speeding traffic on our street.

To be sure, there are drawbacks like the rush-hour traffic, the Squirrel Hill tunnel and the crumbling bridge infrastructure. My high school, Peabody (class of 1988), is closed and many city schools appear to be in trouble.

I’m also frequently discouraged by some of my suburban colleagues’ disdain for the city and apprehension to venture in. Race relations, in my mind, leave a lot to be desired here (also a problem in Detroit).

Selfishly, I’m thrilled that my daughters now live within minutes of their grandparents: My mother and stepfather live in Friendship and my father and stepmother live in Highland Park. And I’m overjoyed to see them bond with my younger sister, a senior at Pitt.

But it’s the small family moments here that make the move worth it. I remember a summer afternoon last year when we trudged across the crowded Roberto Clemente Bridge looking out at the rivers and beckoning ballpark.

Jordan looked up at me and said: “Dad, I love Pittsburgh.”

Home again.
Contact Ben Schmitt here.
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