An urban media tour of the South Side

With the weather warming up crowds have returned to the outdoor patios on my block and elsewhere along Carson Street, and I’ve recently returned to the trails and even brought my bike out of its winter hibernation (I’ve continued to be flummoxed by the pervasive road construction and sidewalk closures, however). In honor of the seasonal thaw and with optimistic anticipation for the coming summer I decided to revisit one of my first South Side sojourns. These photos were taken during an afternoon walk I took last July shortly after moving to the neighborhood. A theme soon developed where I was documenting multiple dimensions of the urban mediascape of South Side. Many of these sites have changed in the intervening months so this post is a bit of a throwback (as well as a nostalgic reminiscence of better sidewalk accessibility in the neighborhood).

I’ll start with the billboard in the above photo. I glimpsed the sign while driving in on my move-in weekend, and I assumed it was an advertisement. Revisiting it on foot I found that it was not a straightforward commercial message but some sort of mysterious campaign. Unfortunately the QR code was defunct so I was unable to determine its purpose. Nevertheless it was an intriguing twist on the traditional landscape of urban signage, with the QR code representing the multiple levels of technologically-mediated modalities and ways of interfacing with the built environment in contemporary urban space.

In terms of more traditional urban media, this July walk was the first time I had been to the WYEP Community Broadcast Center, the Bedford Square home of 91.3 WYEP. WYEP is a great local radio station (and overall community asset) and has been a core part of my personal Pittsburgh media experience since I first arrived in the city. Even when I was temporarily relocated to Nashville during the pandemic I still woke up every day to WYEP’s Morning Mix thanks to the ability to stream the station on my smart speaker. I’ve always appreciated that Pittsburgh has a solid homegrown radio station and am glad that we now share a neighborhood.

Prior to the advent of radio broadcasting, performance spaces and venues constituted key fixtures of urban media. As a major nightlife and entertainment district, South Side has traditionally been strong in music venues and concert spots (the neighborhood is comparatively lacking in my personal favorite urban media places, namely movie theaters and bookstores). One of the most prominent music venues in the area during my time in Pittsburgh has been the Rex Theater, an historic vaudeville house that later became a movie theater before finally transforming into a concert hall. The Rex closed permanently in September 2020 amidst hardships wrought by the pandemic. In July 2021 – the same month as the afternoon walk documented herein – it was announced that the space would be reopening as a music venue under new management and a new name. On the day I took these photos, however, the facade still looked shuttered, with the box office windows plastered with posters and flyers.

Speaking of papered-over windows: on the opposite side of Carson Street the historic Schwartz’s Market featured signs advertising notably anachronistic grocery prices.

The storefront had been made over as a filming location for a League of their Own television show that was shooting that week.

Finally, as I arrived back home, I checked the status of the mural that I had seen progressing since moving to the neighborhood. I didn’t spot the artists this day, but as identified here beside the mural it is a collaboration between Shane Pilster and Max Gonzales, who I would later meet and get to learn more about this specific project.

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