Life in Progress: A weblog by Heidi Price

By bicycle

My sophomore year of high school, I moved from Ohio to Pittsburgh.

Well meaning locals gave me tips on living in the big city. Avoid any neighborhood with "Hill" in it, except for Squirrel Hill. "Heights" is okay, but definitely avoid "Hill." Also steer clear of the Homewood/Lincoln Lemington neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.

When I started working in Washington, well-meaning locals and acquaintances offered the same advice. Washington has its own "Hill", they told me, and it is best to avoid it.

For many years I did just that. I avoided certain streets, drove around entire neighborhoods entirely. These pre-cautions were not baseless nor was my adherenece to them. They had their share of crime.

But in avoiding certain neighborhoods, certain clusters of homes, an insidious thing started to happen. I started to pity the people who lived there, imagining their lives - dodging bullets everytime they stepped outside their doors, trampling over used needles on their way to the bus stop.

It's not true of course, not for most. To come full circle, I've spent the last several months riding my bicycle through the neighborhoods I'd spent years trying to avoid. It hasn't been by choice. I've been trying to catch the guy on the bike in front of me. As I've pedaled and panted, I've ridden past birthday parties in back yards. I've seen run down houses and well-kept ones. Last week, we found a former conservatory (see previous post) in Homewood that used to train young, black opera singers who performed all over the east coast.

I would never have noticed the birthday parties, the people, the smells if I'd been in my car. I would have been concentrating on driving while talking on the phone. Two wheels is better. There's no filter between you and the neighborhood you are riding through. People smile at your flushed, face as you pedal up the hill.

A good way to get to know a neighborhood I think.


Scott Beveridge said...

What strikes me is that Shadyside and all its wealth is just a stone's throw from the struggles of East Liberty and its neighbors.

2:49 PM  

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