I’ve always talked about Pittsburgh in extremes. When I was 16, I thought it was the worst, the grayest, the bleakest, the stifflingest.

Now that I’ve had some distance, I speak (and think) in glowing superlatives about the Steel City. It’s the best, the greenest, the friendliest, the rust belt-iest. You should go there, why haven’t you been there already? It’s the best!

I love to talk about it as if it were my relative, or sometimes, as if it were my brilliant friend whom I think should be a household name. Oh, but I don’t want her to get too successful, because then I’d have to share.

Now that I’ve embarked on a Pittsburgh research binge for an essay collection, I finally have run into someone who shares my affection for descriptive melodrama. A professor at the university of Pittsburgh, Franklin Toker, wrote a history of Pittsburgh architecture in 1986, when it was named the most livable city. The dude even put the title in all caps. PITTSBURGH: An Urban Portrait.

Here are my favorite Toker lines:

  • In the beginning was the land.
  • The chief distinction of Pittsburgh is not smoke, and it never was.
  • Pittsburgh is the classic overachiever among American cities.
  • Nature gave Pittsburgh the gift of water.
  • A romantic spirit, often inclined to playfulness, is a prime experience of architecture.
  • The strength of the old Pittsburgh lay precisely in the fact that it did not care what the rest of the nation thought of it.

* Art is from a Mattress Factory exhibit. Seamus Nolan, “310-312 Sampsonia Way, For Sale By Owner, Great Opportunity,” 2011.