Over past years, Marilynn and I have traveled to many foreign lands and learned from their diverse physical structures as well as enjoyed their unique attractions and cultures. This year, an important convention in Pittsburgh suggested the opportunity to drive to that destination and then continue north to our homeland of Ontario, Canada. It was a memorable journey both for renewing lifelong friendships as well as experiencing new and historic communities.
Pittsburgh is one of two large cities we experienced on this trip. The second is Toronto which was my home away from home during my initial university years. Both provide exceptional living environments for residents as well as memorable experiences for visitors. But their physical settings are quite different. Pittsburgh was developed on the shores of three rivers: the Alleghany and the Monongahela, flowing from the east, join together at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River which continues to provide a major water transport link to the Mississippi River and south to the Gulf of Mexico. Our hotel room overlooked this river junction and the large multi-purpose Point State Park along the riverbanks as well as Heinz Field housing the Steelers football team and the PNC baseball stadium hosting the Pirates across the river.
Pittsburgh grew rapidly from its incorporation in 1816 due to the extraordinary success of industrial pioneers including Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick who combined their steel-making skills to form the U.S. Steel Corporation, George Westinghouse and the diverse corporation still bearing his name, and R. J. Heinz with his food product empire. Their combined success generated a population of over 700,000 by the mid-1900s which dwindled to half that number after worldwide competition reduced the demand for American steel. But the transition from a pollution-prone industrial center to the smoke-free city of today caused Pittsburgh to be named one of America’s “Most Livable Cities” by the end of the century as the civic contributions of its pioneers provided residents and visitors alike with modern infrastructure and amenities. Pittsburgh features an extensive public transportation system, including free rides in the city center, 446 bridges (most in the world), vehicle and train tunnels under surrounding hills and incline rail links to suburbs on the hilltops. The funding of renowned universities and hospitals added to the livability for its 305,000 residents (2.7 million metropolitan).
The beauty of this great city is not dependent upon its three rivers, or the towering cliffs bordering its location, but rather in the richness of its structures, infrastructure and institutions providing the physical framework for the lasting enjoyment of its population. We witnessed these happy residents of diverse ethnic ancestry thronging the riverfront parks to enjoy the July 4th celebrations sponsored by city businesses and civic groups. Residents are happy in Pittsburgh.
We concluded the Canadian portion of our trip in the world-renowned city of Toronto having lunch with one of my nieces at a downtown sidewalk restaurant. None of the great European cities that we have visited can provide any better setting for a relaxing lunch amidst the high-rise business towers packed into the center of Canada’s financial capital. I even managed to park our car at the curb outside the entrance to the restaurant. Toronto, with its 2.6 million city residents (5.6 million metropolitan) is the anchor of the “Golden Horseshoe” containing 8.7 million people in a 100-mile urban area wrapped around the end of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls.
We visited Ontario during the Pan American Games and were advised to stay away from the Toronto traffic projected to be generated from this international event. But, Toronto operates smoothly under all conditions. We experienced no delays driving to the waterfront hub of the city with its multi-lane expressways flanked by the efficient “GO” trains and busy harbor with its own executive airport at the nexus of the railway terminal and the local subway system and surface transport. I still take pride in the fact that my fellow students at the University of Toronto from decades gone by directed the growth of this city to be a comfortable environment for both residents and visitors.
Most of our vacation time was spent with relatives and friends in small cities and rural towns, both in the United States and Canada. Virtually all of these localities are quiet settlements with abundant green areas and no traffic congestion. They appear to be very pleasant places to reside. But, of course, the commute to work places is too great an obstacle for most of us to consider small town living, let alone the issue of assumed value of larger schools and health care centers. However, the rapid advent of electronic communications is reducing the need for personal interaction at a rapid pace. Will this trend lead to renewed growth of small towns? If so, what characteristics will be paramount in their growth parameters? Who will direct this growth? These are issues for another blog, but they do raise interesting concerns for future planners.
My vote for the most livable city visited during our 2015 travels is the historic City of Perth in southeastern Ontario 50 miles southwest of Ottawa. The conservation of its magnificent stone architecture, parks and Tay River into a modern community of 5,600 residents has created an environment of unusual magnetism. Founded in 1816 through government purchase of Indian land for grants to war veterans from the 1812-14 conflict with the United States, it attracted a number of skilled stone masons from Scotland who erected dozens of handsome buildings (and locks on the nearby Rideau Canal linking the new Canadian capital of Ottawa to Lake Ontario). These stone structures include the four-story Code’s Mill which used the rapids of the Tay River for power to produce felt; now the ground floor location of Fiddleheads Bar and Grill which attracts both visitors and residents to its tasty offerings. We found it difficult to depart the charm of Perth and we hope to return in future for a longer visit.
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