Shots from the Block: Back in the Burgh

After an 18 month residency in Nashville I have returned to Pittsburgh. I had mixed feelings about coming back to the city where I lived for the six years prior to the pandemic. It’s not the move I was hoping to make. I treated my time in Tennessee as a temporary detour, an opportunity to take stock and reorient myself. I gave substantial consideration to where I’ve been, where I’m at, and what direction I want to go in the future. I worked as hard as I could to gain some traction and build a foundation for forward movement. The results I hoped for failed to materialize, and in many areas of my life I felt I was spinning my wheels more than ever.

I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with the notion of a hometown. Growing up I had difficulty responding to the question “Where are you from?” The implied pinning-down of origins was not as simple as the question seemed to presume. My parents moved to a new city two weeks after my birth, so the place where I was born was unfamiliar to me. My family moved again the summer after I finished elementary school. Unlike many of my childhood friends I didn’t have the experience of growing up with grandparents or other relatives living in the immediate vicinity, or a strong sense of hometown rooted in emplaced community relationships and memories that endured change over time. This early experience of uprootedness also instilled in me an association with geographical movement and personal progress. Subsequent life events further cemented this connection between physical relocation and the milestones of one’s personal journey. Moving to a new city after college provided an ersatz semblance of progression in lieu of the meaningful employment or career opportunities that eluded me after graduation. And that’s what moving to Pittsburgh for graduate school represented to me seven years ago: an exciting new chapter and evidence of forward progression. But most importantly it was always understood to be a temporary home. Pittsburgh was a place of transition, a stepping stone on my way to bigger and better things, with a built-in time limit established by the intermediate goal of completing the degree.

So now, seven years later, moving back to Pittsburgh felt like backsliding, a tangible manifestation of my failure to make meaningful progression in my life. For a while I resigned myself to rejecting any possibility of coming back to the city, treating a potential return trip as a line in the sand that I would refuse to cross. But I ultimately decided to view the return through the lens of the “upward spirals” model of personal progression rather than the “endless cycles” prism of total stagnation. When I entered Western Pennsylvania last week, for the first time in a year, the Appalachian environs evoked a fond familiarity. I didn’t want to find myself back in Pittsburgh but I’m grateful for the opportunity that’s been offered to me, and the city feels more like home than any other place I know.

As an intermediary concession to my migratory impulses I decided to settle in a part of town I haven’t lived in before. My previous Pittsburgh residences were all in East End neighborhoods. I’m now living across the river in the South Side flats. The neighborhood has a distinct and dynamic vibe. Yes, there’s the noisy nightlife scene that tends to keep more mild individuals (like myself) in quieter neighborhoods. But there’s also an abundance of fantastic architecture and street art. I may be most excited about the easy access to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. In my first week here I’ve been on the trail several times walking, running, and cycling. Aside from getting to explore a new neighborhood there’s some exciting things happening in the city including a new mayoral administration and interesting policy initiatives. I’ve also been assessing how the city has changed during the past year and a half. A saddening number of local businesses shuttered during the pandemic, and the ongoing redevelopments in the East Liberty area seem to have continued unabated. So here’s to new beginnings, second chances, upward spirals, and the resolution of unfinished business.

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