As 2021 draws to a close, here are 21 reasons — new, expanded, revived or revitalized — to love the city, right now.
(1) Commissary Kitchens Help Mobile Food Businesses.
The tally of food trucks, pop-ups and direct-order food vendors in Pittsburgh is increasing, thanks in part to the expansion of local commissaries that prepare the offerings in health-department-inspected commercial kitchens. Pittsburgh’s first commissary, La Dorita (it opened in 2013), upgraded to a 4,000-square-foot space in 2019 and, in the past year, was joined by spacious Fulton Commons and smaller Oasis Community Kitchen. — HBK
(2) Vital Public Art Underneath the Fort Duquesne Bridge.
Beneath the Fort Duquesne Bridge, a sprawling mural is alive with a rainbow of familiar faces. “These are 12 underrepresented Black faces of Pittsburgh,” says artist Camerin “Camo” Nesbit, a Pittsburgh native from Homewood. “Of course, there’s hundreds of faces that also could be on the wall. I just felt it was a good start.” One section of the mural honors actor Billy Porter, who visited and praised the site in October. — OG
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(3) The Enduring Legacy of Josh Gibson.
Not many baseball players get a mural and an opera dedicated to them in the span of a few years. But Josh Gibson, regarded as one of the best players of all time, wasn’t just any baseball player. In 2017, “The Summer King” premiered in Pittsburgh; Gibson’s great-grandson, Sean Gibson, consulted on the work and serves as executive director of The Josh Gibson Foundation. Gibson was also memorialized in May with a mural by Jeremy Raymer in Homestead. — LD
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(4) Glimpses of Rare Artifacts in an Expanded Science Center.
Just as the Carnegie Science Center’s PPG Science Pavilion, a new home for touring exhibitions, was hitting its stride, its high-profile showcase of mummified artifacts from around the world was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, that exhibition continued after the institution reopened — and now, a breathtaking exploration of the lost city of Pompeii has arrived. — SC
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(5) Making Movies More Accessible in Sewickley.
The Tull Family Theater in Sewickley is one of the only cinemas in the country to dedicate one day each week to visitors with auditory issues. Every “Open Caption Wednesday” features captions — like the subtitles on your TV — on all available showings. This is not only a boon for patrons with hearing issues but also for those learning the English language. — SC
(6) Ascension of the #notwhitecollective.
The #notwhitecollective — a group of 13 women artists who identify as bi/multi-racial/cultural, immigrant or descendants of immigrants founded in 2016 — reopened Space gallery this summer with a powerful show called “We Are the Global Majority.” Next up? They’re spearheading a monthly series with City of Asylum; “In-Dialogue” invites artists of color to talk about their experience during the coronavirus pandemic. — LD
(7) Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Grows and Thrives.
Built on a reclaimed coal mine in Oakdale, the region’s first major outdoor public garden continues to bloom. In April 2021, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden opened a 7,500-square-foot Welcome Center that serves 460 acres worth of gardens and woodlands, as well as a central learning space that offers programming for all ages. The center also houses a cafe, gift shop and offices, plus event spaces. — JS
(8) From Golf to a Green Wonderland.
When Churchill Valley Country Club closed in 2013, its sprawling golf course was left to fallow. It’s now a wonderland for nature lovers with its tall grasses, blooming goldenrod and flourishing wildlife — easily accessible by paved golf cart paths. In July, the Allegheny Land Trust acquired the 150 acres that straddle Churchill and Penn Hills, ensuring its future as protected green space. — VL
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(9) Green Growth on the Banks of the Mon.
Maybe it’s the landscape, maybe it’s the impressive post-industrial structures or maybe it’s simply that Pittsburgh is generally beautiful — but there are few more picturesque stretches than the burgeoning Hazelwood Green development. The city’s cultural organizations are taking notice; groups including City Theatre and OpenStreetsPGH have hosted events in the peaceful spot. — SC
(10) Row House Cinema’s Pop-Up Drive-In.
A drive-in movie theater in the city? Yep, it’s possible. For the last two years, Lawrenceville stalwart Row House Cinema, in a partnership with The Terminal, has offered a pop-up drive-in experience in October, with a favorite movie screened each Friday and Saturday night. The event, which sets up in the parking lot at 21st and Smallman streets in the Strip District, also features beers from a rotating crop of local breweries. — JS
(11) Hello Neighbor’s Expansion.
Hello Neighbor, a nonprofit founded in 2017 to support local refugees, has recently begun the work of resettling those arriving here from other countries, meaning they can assist those new Pittsburghers from day one. Throughout the next year, Hello Neighbor anticipates helping at least 250 people from war-torn countries including Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan with housing, access to basic food and necessities, mentorship support and more. — LD
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PHOTO: NINE O’CLOCK WINES INSTAGRAM PAGE
(12) Wine Shops in Restaurants.
Although ACT 39, the law that allowed certain Pennsylvania restaurants to sell bottles of wine to-go, was signed in 2016, few Pittsburgh establishments took advantage of the provision until the coronavirus pandemic. Now, businesses such as Apteka, tina’s and Nine O’Clock Wines (located inside Bar Marco) join established locations such as the shop at Penn Cove Eatery to offer bottles, typically with a tilt toward natural and biodynamic selections. — HBK
PHOTO: ROB DENSHAW
(13) Thunderbird? More Like the Phoenix.
After a long closure for renovations, the Lawrenceville concert venue Thunderbird reopened in 2019 — and then closed again due to the pandemic. Fortunately, the bar and its two stages endured and resumed, hosting an eclectic lineup of live music. At the end of the bar, a small stage welcomes solo artists for casual gigs; beyond lies an impressive, intimate venue for ticketed shows. — SC
PHOTO COURTESY RIVERS OF STEEL HERITAGE CORP.
(14) Fresh, Floating Looks at the City.
Looking at the city from the water always offers a new perspective, and the “Uniquely Pittsburgh Sightseeing Tour” from Rivers of Steel recontextualizes the history of Pittsburgh itself. Yes, you’ll learn about the stadiums and the North Side, but you’ll also hear about hidden figures in history and the neighborhoods that give Pittsburgh its lifeblood. The tours are scheduled to resume in May 2022. — SC
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(15) New Digs for Contemporary Craft.
Contemporary Craft muscled through the pandemic to open its $5.5 million, 13,000-square-foot permanent home in Upper Lawrenceville in September 2020. The new building for the 50-year-old organization of craft artists offers light-filled exhibition and studio space and a beautiful gift shop. And admission continues to be free. — VL
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(16) Walks on the Wild Side.
The isolating lockdown during the pandemic drew many of us outside, giving us a chance to explore more of our region’s parks. And what treasures they are. More improvements are to come for Allegheny County’s nine parks and Pittsburgh’s 165 parks, plus its newest one: Hays Woods Park. — VL
PHOTO PROVIDED BY CITY OF PITTSBURGH
(17) Pittsburgh’s Bike Lanes Roll Forward.
With its roller-coaster hills, blind mergers and car-lined, narrow streets, Pittsburgh is not the easiest place to navigate by bicycle. We applaud the city’s Bike (+) Master Plan, updated last year for the first time since 1999, which calls for adding 150 miles of bike lanes and off-road trails over the next decade, bringing the city’s total to 243 protected miles — making rides easier and safer. — VL
(18) A Community Dream on the Allegheny.
Aspinwall Riverfront Park celebrated its 10th year in 2021 with a new name, Allegheny RiverTrail Park. Its nonprofit leadership also purchased 6 acres and plans to acquire a vacated railroad bridge over the river to create a 4-mile pedestrian/bike trail from the park to Pittsburgh’s East End. What started as a community dream to gain access to the Allegheny River now touts a fishing dock, playground, dog park, walking paths, an event space and more. — VL
PHOTO COURTESY DRAGON’S DEN
(19) Chasing Dragons in Homestead.
An extensive ropes course, a 160-foot zipline and a strong community spirit now occupy Homestead’s former St. Mary Magdalene church in the form of Dragon’s Den. The youth center opened its doors in September 2020 after lengthy repairs and remodeling. The church closed in 2009 and sat abandoned until Founder and Executive Director Giulia Lozza Petrucci and her husband purchased the property in 2016. — OG
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PHOTO COURTESY OAKMONT BAKERY
(20) More to Satisfy the Sweet Tooth.
Family-owned bakeries popped up or expanded all over the region in the last five years. The Oakmont Bakery more than quadrupled in size when it opened a new 18,000-square-foot facility near the Hulton Bridge in February 2019. And Five Points Artisan Bakeshop in Squirrel Hill, Madeleine Bakery & Bistro in Wilkinsburg and more recently Panaderia Jazmin in Mt. Lebanon, to name a few, spread their joy with artisan breads, European-style pastries and savories. — VL
(21) Bloomfield Saturday Market Blossoms.
Over the past two seasons, the seven-year-old Bloomfield Saturday Market has blossomed into a culinary destination. Each Saturday from May through November, you’ll find beautiful produce from farms such as be.wild.er., Bitter Ends Farm Co., Tiny Seed Farm and Who Cooks For You, flavorful pasture-raised meats from growers such as Fallen Aspen Farm and Old Time Farm, and yummy prepared food from vendors such as Cafe Agnes, Fet Fisk, ShadoBeni and The Thyme Machine. — HBK