The transition driving into the Upper Hill was fairly abrupt. I drove past the University of Pittsburgh (“Pitt”), up a fairly steep, wooded hill, and came out surrounded by intermittent signs of urban decay. It was difficult to identify much difference between the Upper and Middle Hill Districts—both geographically and environmentally. Each had its fair share of seemingly decent housing, dotted with abandoned buildings here and there. However, when I reached the Lower Hill, I noticed significantly more abandoned buildings and empty lots and got my first glimpse at some of Pittsburgh’s public housing. The most shocking point was when I reached the crest of the hill. There I stood in the middle of a street, sandwiched between abandoned buildings, empty lots, and public housing looking at a beautiful view of downtown Pittsburgh glittering with all its revitalized prosperity.
I was almost done with my “tour” by then and set out to find the nearby restaurant where I had planned to eat lunch. The restaurant was located just a few streets over, yet I had to drive almost all the way back to where I entered the Hill District to connect to the street where it was located . It was like the Hill District was deliberately cut off from the rest of the city. Curious, I decided my tour wasn’t over yet. I walked back to the far side of the public housing community to see if perhaps there was another street connection I had missed. There I found yet another surprise: a stone wall overlooking a hill filled with overgrown brush and several very steep, long staircases leading to the road below, and the rest of the city. Not only were the residents here experiencing extreme forms of poverty and geographic isolation, but ironically they had a great view—in two directions—of the economic prosperity that surrounded them as well.
A main thoroughfare cuts through the side of the mountain. To the right, up the mountain, is the Hill District. To the left, further down the mountain, is part of downtown Pittsburgh.
One of the few housing developments that was actually followed through to completion sits at the very bottom of the Lower Hill, directly adjacent to the beautiful skyscrapers of downtown Pittsburgh.
From the back of the public housing that sits atop the crest of the hill in the Lower Hill, one can see clearly the various Universities, hospitals, and other businesses and residential areas. However, the geographic isolation makes these entities difficult to access.
Public Housing in the Lower Hill District.
This was one of two roads that would take you off “the Hill” without having to backtrack completely out of the Hill District. The road, though in the middle of downtown Pittsburgh, appears to be surrounded by forest. It is barely wide enough for two cars to pass at one time, and has no sidewalks.
A man sits on a guardrail at the bottom of a long staircase tumbling through the woods from the Lower Hill District to the main thoroughfare below, where he can access public transportation.
Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. She has a Master's Degree in Criminology from the University of California at Irvine. You can view more of her photography at http://angieluvphotography.blogspot.com/. And for more photos of the Hill District log on to Social Shutter's Facebook page.