Carnegie Mellon University recently launched Livehoods. It’s a dynamic online map that uses social media to show how people use their cities. The map is built from location tags. When someone “checks-in” somewhere and then checks-in somewhere else, the map connects those places. With enough connections, geographic patterns emerge. (I participated in a voluntary question and answer thing when they were building the site).
In Pittsburgh, many of the Livehoods come close to matching the boundaries of the actual neighborhoods. Shadyside is an exception. The city-defined boundaries run roughly from Neville to Penn and from Fifth to Centre. Within that area are three distinct Livehoods.
The western end from Neville to Liberty is in Livehood No. 20, an area that extends over the majority of Bloomfield. The middle section from Amberson to College is in Livehood No. 4, the area that most people would think of when they hear “Shadyside.” The eastern end is the tip of Livehood No. 41, a large area that extends over most of East Liberty.
Shadyside is the place where those three distinct areas in the East End meet. It’s where they expand and contract, and encroach upon each other.
This wasn’t pre-ordained by geography. Even though Shadyside is flat and centrally located, Two Mile Run divides it from everything to the north and Squirrel Hill forms a strict southern boundary. Shadyside is a neighborhood of bridges — eight to be exact — but in atypical fashion, its bridges are hidden in the cityscape and rarely heralded.
The city began connecting Shadyside to Bloomfield, Friendship and East Liberty more than a century ago. According to construction photographs on Retrographer, the city built a bridge at Centre no later than 1907, a pedestrian walkway at S. Graham and a bridge at Ellsworth in 1908, and the bridges at S. Aiken and S. Negley around 1909.
A second wave of construction connected Bloomfield to North Oakland and the Upper Hill. The city built the first of two bridges along Baum Boulevard (known at the time as Atherton Avenue) around 1913, the first Bloomfield Bridge in 1914 and the stately Herron Avenue Bridge around 1915.
A third wave returned to Shadyside. The city built the bridge at Shady Avenue no later than 1915. There are photographs of the S. Highland Bridge dated from the same year, but the current plaque on the bridge dates the construction to 1925. The city built the S. Milvale Bridge in 1927, although, according to Bruce Cridlebaugh, elements of the bridge suggest it could have been built as early as 1915. The city built the 28th Street Bridge in 1931, although it used foundational elements from a crossing built in 1890.
The new Spahr Street pedestrian bridge isn’t just another attempt to connect Shadyside to its northern neighbors. It’s actually a restoration of the first Ellsworth bridge. I don’t know why the original bridge didn’t survive; perhaps it came down during redevelopment.
Without those bridges, Shadyside would be an island. With them, it’s a keystone.