Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pittsburgh's Not Portland, and That's Just Fine with Me

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pittsburgh's Not Portland, and That's Just Fine with Me

Article excerpt

When Pittsburgh's coolest kids (or mayoral candidates) close their eyes, they dream of Portland.

Even before the IFC satire "Portlandia" made Oregon's biggest city a household name -- OK, maybe only in co-op households -- many already knew Portland as a paradise of sustainable development and good brunches.

Those green bike lanes Pittsburgh just painted on Liberty Avenue? Portland had 'em years ago.

Light-rail transit? Ding-ding -- here comes the MAX, a slick iPod of a train that makes the Port Authority's T look like a Walkman.

Everyone with an urban planning degree and a pulse lauds Portland's commitment to responsible growth and preservation of "weird" culture.

Given the similarities between Portland and Pittsburgh -- former industrial cities, anchors for far-flung metropolitan areas and blessed with bridges -- some have said our town could take cues from our hipper cousin to the west.

My take? Do what I did -- visit the place. You might be surprised.

* * *

Last month, my friend and I took a two-day train trip that ended in Portland. Hopping off at Union Station, I said the same thing my Philadelphia relatives first remark upon visiting Pittsburgh:

Dang, this city is clean.

Day 1 was great. Hitting up a cafe for brunch, my friend and I noted that, yes, our waitress really could tell us where our eggs were from. ("It's just like the show!" we marveled.)

We wandered up Mississippi Avenue, drank some craft coffee and stumbled upon what can only be described as a cross between an organic Meals-on-Wheels distribution center and an impromptu harpsichord concert.

To top it off, our hipster Marriott hotel appeared to be permanently serving brunch.

But in the days that followed, I realized several things:

* No one is actually from Portland. A man lugging around his newborn in a sarong directed us around downtown as if we were in Manhattan, pointing out Portland's "Chelsea" one way and "Midtown" the other. …

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