Lets Make Pittsburgh More Like Europe / by Michael McAllister

We could/should learn a lot from our friends across the Atlantic but here are just a couple take-aways from my most recent trip in which PGH could benefit from an influx of European habits!

  • Europeans Walk as a Method of Transit.  Not just around the corner for milk (although they do that too) but across town from dinner, to meet a friend for lunch, or to their favorite cheese shop.  Europeans walk everywhere.  And we wonder why they are all more in shape than us?  Not having that ingrained in us, Pittsburgh should look to way finding signs with rings for walkable distances; 5 , 10 & 15 minute walks to encourage more walkers.  A friend of mine walks home from Downtown to Lawrenceville and I remember someone remarking that it was crazy of her?  Really?  30 relaxing minutes to yourself to unwind from the office before you get home is crazy?  No, its a pleasant routine and one more of us should embrace.  Hills also will give you great calves.  
  • Public Art to Activate Spaces.  Portugal blew me away in this regard.  Alleys, abandoned buildings, swanky row houses all were hosts to incredible public art from graffiti to installations.  A dingy alley went from bypassed to a destination with the addition of color and artistic pride.  While seeds of this can be seen in the Cultural District, I would love Pittsburgh to embrace this outside of commissioned pieces and become something more organic and interesting.
  • Better Performing/Utilization of Public Spaces.  I saw examples of this in tiny towns like Cambridge, England and Sintra, Portugal to London and Paris.  Europeans love their public spaces and use them! From having a morning coffee in the town square to the robust picnic culture that speckled the banks of the Thames & Seine, Europeans flock to their public spaces at any opportunity they can.  And so should we Pittsburgh!  A picnic in the Point is incredible.  Mellon Park is a gem. Instead of spending weekends overly planned, head to the park with a picnic (and maybe a bottle or two of rosé, gasp!) and relax!
  • Small/Cost Effective Retail Space.  One of the most interesting stops we made in London was to the Shoreditch neighborhood's pop-up 'mall' BOXPARK.  The epicly cool collection of shipping containers took an empty parcel and transformed it into a destination of 40+ shops.  It was incredible to see the how big 160 sq/ft could live and how each shop envisioned the space differently.  Here in Pittsburgh I see a concept like this or even just smaller retail bays to allow start-ups and low margin businesses (flower shops, boutiques, bakeries, etc) to be able to open without over leveraging themselves with a 1,000+ sq/ft space and the accompanying rent.  Spaces like this would allow for businesses to get footing/traction and possibly grow in the future creating more dynamic offerings and services.
  • Cafe Culture. The Brits lean with a beer outside a pub on the narrowest streets.  Portuguese drink espresso and spill out onto the road while catching up with friends.  The French sip on a glass of wine at the corner brasserie.  But what did all three have in common.  There weren't aggressive signs anywhere saying that seats were for customers only or drinks can't be allowed beyond a certain point.  Because when they finished the beer or espresso they walked the glass back in, moved their chairs when someone in a wheelchair came by.  Basically people were treated like adults, something that is often not the case here in the States.