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Jonathan Potts

People spend a lot of time talking about the decline of cities over the past 50 years, but the decline of American small towns has been just as profound. Indeed, one could argue that small towns have suffered more from suburban sprawl than cities. Westmoreland County has a lot of places like this--Latrobe, Greensburg, Irwin, Ligonier, some faring better than others.

I'm not the kind of person who cottons well to an hour-long commute, so living out there is out of the question, but were if I ever to work in Westmoreland County I'd be thrilled to be able to buy one of the great old houses that line the outer portions of Pennsylvania Avenue and Main Street in Greensburg, to give an example.

Fred Mullner

Having grown up in Butler, this all rings true.

Oh, and driving north, you stop being in Pittsburgh a couple miles past the intersection of the Turnpike and Rt. 8. At least for now.

Sam M

After I posed the question of where Pittsburgh ends, I remembered a very intersting story involving a "local" guy and, get this, President Bush.

We all recall the day the president landed on the aircraft carrier and delivered the speech under the "Mission Accomplished" banner, right?

Well, he was accompanied that day by a young Navy pilot from Kane, PA. I know. Because I was living in Kane at the time and they had a big write-up about it in the local paper. Well, the reporter asked what the pilot talked to the president about. The pilot said the president asked where he was from. The answer was something along the lines of:

"I told him I was from Pittsburgh."

Kane is at least three hours from Pittsburgh. And in fact, it is closer to Buffalo.

Huh. I dount many people in the city would consider Kane to be part of the mix. But that guy did. Or at least he thought it was close enough.

I know there are a lot of complications here. One hardly wants to get into the intricacies of Western Pennsyltucky geography with the commander in chief. But I must admit that by the end of college I often replied "Pittsburgh" when people asked about my origins. It was easier.

At any rate, just thought I might let you know how the leader of the free world fits into the question.

sean mcdaniel

to the north on 279...pittsburgh is starting to end at the Wexford exit...and cranberry definitely doesn't consider itself part of the extended city. by time you hit zelienople, the townsfolk there think of pittsburgh the way pittsburghers view philadelphia.

Jonathan Potts

I'm sure a lot of it depends on who you are talking to, and how you feel about your hometown.

As for Zelionople, you may be right. On the otherhand, enough people there apparently work here for their local government to pony up funds for a bus line to Downtown:


sean mcdaniel

okay, let's just say that it's easier to tell the president that you're from Pittsburgh than Kane. Bush might have a better idea where the city of three rivers is than a little forest town.

as for the busload of workers...my brother in law lived in NJ for 30 years and took a train to NYC every day, and never told anyone he was from new york.

if you asked the zelie residents where they lived and where they worked, the answers would be zelie and pittsburgh. i worked in cranberry for 3 years and was more than happy to have no other association with the place. i put in my hours and went home as fast as possible...just as the people from zelie vacate pittsburgh as soon as 5 p.m. comes.

Sam M

Sean writes:

"okay, let's just say that it's easier to tell the president that you're from Pittsburgh than Kane. Bush might have a better idea where the city of three rivers is than a little forest town."

True. But it is not easier to say Pittsburgh than it is to say Erie or Buffalo. Both of which are closer. So why choose Pittsburgh?

In Ridgway, the answer might be television market. That is, we got Pittsburgh news. All the channels. We got Johnstown, too. But Pittsburgh was the big city.

But that is not so easy to explain in Kane. They get Buffalo channels. Erie channels. Tons of channels. Actually, it probably used to be a greeat place to watch football. There were a lot more games on. (This is an advantage somewhat diminished by the advent of satellite TV, I suppose.)

My answer.. and stick with me here... is watershed. History and watershed. Most of those areas up there drain to the Allegheny system. When they floated logs down the river, they went to Pittsburgh, making a strong historic economic connection.

Go a little ways east. Out to, say, Driftwood and Williamsport, etc. They drain to the Susquehanna, which takes you to Philly and Baltimore. That is, it is common to say that the American frontier started in Pittsburgh in the late colonial period. But actually, it probably started a bit east of that, at the continental divide.

Far fetched, I know, but it is not all that unheard of. Some environmentlaists argue for redrawn political boundaries based on watershed, especially out west, where water is such a scarce resource. Makes sense to connect the people upstream with the people downstream. (If you don't, people upstream have little incentive not to pollute or suck up all the water. And people downstream have little incentive to enact any conservation measures other than telling people upstream to use less water.)

I am sure the Kane pilot didn't have any of that in mind. But it's an interesting thing to consider.

Jonathan Potts

I'm not arguing with you. It's just an interesting fact. Zelionople is a nice little town, by the way, and if I lived there I'd gladly claim residency. (Though I'd probably be telling people I meet from California, for example, how far it is from Pittsburgh.)

But the idea--which, again, I'm not disputing--that people would proudly proclaim that they live in Cranberry fills me with a profound sadness.

sean mcdaniel

Ah...johnny boy, then ye must weep. many of proud of the Cranberry-ness. sad, but true, indeed.

zelie is a nice little town...but have you checked housing prices? they're on par with shadyside these days. granted you get a bigger house and lot...but $300,000 to $400,000 is still a considerable sum of money...especially when cranberry is the closest cultural hub.

sean mcdaniel

don't know about that watershed idea...unless the person claiming residency based on that is about 180 years old.

i was going to propose the football theory too. it always amazes me that baseball fans in york pa root for the orioles instead of the phillies.

Jack Urbani

I don't really consider it an exurb. Mostly because it is another older industrial town that developed in this area somewhat unconnected to Pittsburgh, other than the areas industrial heritage. Like Homestead and Duquesne weren't really suburbs of Pittsburgh but rather developed unto themselves as towns around factories and not there for the city of Pittsburgh.
I find that there is and interesting phenomenon occurring in the outer reaches, exurbs if you will. Jeannette sits between Hempfield Township and Penn Township. These townships, I believe, you can definitely consider being, or at least becoming, exurbs. They are growing fast, and more and more of the new comers are commuting to Pittsburgh. Jeannette, at least the southern section near Rt 30, has 4 traffic lights between it and downtown Pittsburgh. Rt 30 to the Turnpike to the Parkway. A 35 minute drive.
What I see happening is Penn Township and Hempfield are completely lacking centers. Jeannette, if planned properly can become a center for these communities. The appearance of numerous antique shops and the new success of the farmers market support this. Like most communities across the country, there is a renewed interest in "old town" shopping and turning away from mega malls and shopping centers, or at least looking for alternatives. One of the Antique store owners even claim they moved from Ligonier due to their higher rents. It is my opinion that the politicians of Jeannette are mismanaging Jeannette's attractiveness. they, like many in this region have a deep lack of self worth. They seem to be opting to tearing down rather than building on it's natural, tho deteriorated, charm. They tore down the old High School downtown to add to the abundance of empty lots and brown fields.
If you look at some of the more successful older towns of the region, they planned the future around their history and prominence in their regions. Not the tearing down and trying to emulate the surrounding townships. The local polis, in their infinite wisdom plan on tearing down 2 full blocks of the main street, Clay Avenue, and 2 full blocks of charming town houses along Sixth Street, in hopes of attracting an office development and residential development. Maybe they have their hearts in the right place, tho I doubt it. I think they have their own agendas, between you and me. Their plans will end in stifling the organic development that could take place. The residences will be replaced by cheaply done low income row houses that couldn't possibly have the charm that the older homes already have, or could have. The money spent on tearing down these town houses and building new ones would be better spent on the cheaper complete renovation of these old structures and held up as incentives of what can be done. It would also be more environmentally sound.
The politicians bragged that this is a result of a 10 year battle but the only thing they have accomplished is adding more empty lots. Their new strategy is to close some streets and creating suburban style cul-de-sacs, ending the natural flow and traffic patterns of the old town.
I have been personally involved with this struggle and have been in conflict with a number of these plans. I have proposed to them a new park and a rails to trails that would cross the city along Brush Creek and enhancing the natural beauty of the stream, even where the banks have been walled. They did seem to like this plan, particularly the fact the state has a lot of funding allocated to this purpose. It would eventually connect to the trails of Greensburg that plans to extend to the "Great Allegheny Passage" to the Yough and Ohiopyle. I proposed developing the business district, adding a park, a fountain, a town square. Clay Avenue turns into a brownfield at the bottom. Basically a central meeting place that the town has lacked since they paved the park that existed at Magee avenue for a parking lot.
The plans they have for the lots to be torn down on Clay are to be offices. They don't want store fronts on the ground floor, the main component of a business district. They said that the town could not support a business district 9 blocks long. They are underestimating the prospects of Jeannette and it's advantages location to the surrounding townships boom. I simply feel they are lacking the vision of what this town is capable of. I believe this comes from decades of being the target of much criticism from the surrounding area.

John Morris

I have never been there, but if it's like a lot of the old towns around here what you are saying is very true and it is also very true for Pittsburgh itself. Many of these places have the kind of quirky charm that most towns would kill for. At sub minimum, a semi fuctional and charming town could be loved by older people who find it hard to drive and want to stay near thier families in the area. Huge potential could have come about, if some semblence of nature could be retained around them as vacation spots instead of the gross sprawl we have instead.

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