Pittsburgh, PA.,: A very Hilly City

Being from Winnipeg, one of the flattest cities in the world, hilly cities have always intrigued me. I always thought San Francisco was the U.S. city with the most hills, but I discovered that Pittsburgh is even hillier than the California city.

The city of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, the United States, is located over an unruly terrain of hills, hollows, valleys and three intersecting rivers. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, when Pittsburgh was growing as a coal and steel town, factory workers built houses in the hills rising above the flat riverbanks that were lined with factories. In order to commute to work, city officials and residents built staircases along the hillsides, originally of wood and later with concrete that ran up and down throughout the city.

Revered American journalist Ernie Pyle famously wrote about the city in 1937:

Pittsburgh is undoubtedly the cockeyedest city in the United States. Physically, it is absolutely irrational. It must have been laid out by a mountain goat… I’ve flown over it, and driven all around it, and studied maps of it, and I hardly know one end of Pittsburgh from the other… There’s just one balm — people who live here can’t find their way around, either.

 

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Downtown

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The steps

Many of the city’s neighborhoods are steeply sloped with two-lane roads. More than a quarter of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods make reference to “hills,” “heights,” or other similar indicators by name.

The city has some 712 sets of outdoor pedestrian stairs with 44,645 treads and 24,090 vertical feet including hundreds of paper streets composed entirely of stairs and many other steep streets with stairs for sidewalks. Many provide vistas of the Pittsburgh area while attracting hikers and fitness walkers.

 

Population (2013)
 • City 305,841
 • Rank US: 62nd
 • Density 5,540/sq mi (2,140/km2)
 • Urban 1,733,853 (US: 27th)
 • Metro 2,360,867 (US: 22nd)
 • CSA 2,659,937 (US: 20th)
 • GMP $131.3 billion (23rd)

 

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New York City Changing Skyline

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The changing skyline. The Hudson Yards development will add 5 huge new skyscrapers to the skyline. The main tower will be 30 Hudson Yard. It will have one of the most spectacular outdoor observation decks in the world. The building is scheduled for completion in 2019.

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Heights don’t scare some people. Is that guy wearing yoga pants?

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Akademgorodok: Siberia’s Silicon Valley

Tucked away in a remote forest of birch and pine in the heart of Siberia, 3,000 km away from Moscow, at a place where winters are six months long with temperatures dropping to minus 40 degree Celsius and summers are swaddled with mosquitos, is a city built for scientists and researchers. This frozen wasteland is more suited for polar bears than scientific endeavors, but Nikita Khrushchev felt the distance from Moscow was necessary so that the country’s sharpest scientific minds could work together on fundamental research away from the prying eyes of bureaucracy. This is Akademgorodok, or “Academic Town”—the Soviet Union’s answer to America’s Silicon Valley.

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Akademgorodok is situated in the middle of a forest 30 km south of Novosibirsk city. It is one of several Akademgorodoks built between the late 1950s and mid-1970s in Siberia; the Akademgorodok outside Novosibirsk is the most successful one. Located within Akademgorodok is Novosibirsk State University, 35 research institutes, a medical academy, apartment buildings and houses, and a variety of community amenities including stores, hotels, hospitals, restaurants and cafes, cinemas, clubs and libraries. Less than two kilometer away is an artificial beach created by dumping hundreds of tons of sand along the edge of the Ob reservoir.

At its peak, Akademgorodok was home to 65,000 scientists and their families. It was a privilege to live there, and many scholars in the 60s escaped to the frozen hinterland as a sort of voluntary exile in order to be far from the totalitarian rule of the Soviet capital, and lured by the promise of new housing and professional advancement.

Residents enjoyed great levels of freedom and indulged in activities unheard of in any other corner of the Soviet empire. They discussed the foundations of Marxist theory and about economic reforms, read books, listen to poets and singers not approved by the regime. Scientific research in areas dismissed as dangerous pseudoscience in Moscow, such as cybernetics and genetics, flourished.

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Nikita Khrushchev, foreground center, visits Akademgorodok during construction in the 1950s.

Living standards in Akademgorodok were also higher than in the rest of the country. Shops were stocked with subsidized foodstuffs not easily obtainable elsewhere, and apartments were well-furnished. Those who obtained a doctorate were given a special food delivery service, which provided them a wider selection of groceries than the general population could avail. Members of the Academy of Sciences had access to even higher level of services and were allotted single-family residences rather than apartments.

But the utopian vision of no bureaucratic interference proved impossible in the Soviet Union. Freedoms got severely curtailed in the 1970s during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev. Then when the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, many of the former communist nation’s best minds fled to the west. But economic reforms brought about by the end of communism saw the beginning of private investment and venture funding in Akademgorodok. From USD 10 million in 1997, this rose to USD 1 billion by 2015. There are some 300 companies operating at Akademgorodok today dabbling on everything from nano-ceramics to motion graphics for the American entertainment industry. Its current population stands at over 100,000.

While the figures pale in comparison to that of other countries and even elsewhere in Russia—Skolkovo, an emerging tech hub on the outskirts of Moscow, for example, has over 1,100 startups generating over USD 1 billion in revenue alone at the end of 2014—Akademgorodok will remain as Russia’s original Silicon Valley.

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Los Angeles: the freeway capital of the universe

 

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Postcard from the 1960’s.

The Southern California freeways are a network of interconnected freeways in the megaregion of Southern California, serving a population of 22 million people. A comprehensive freeway plan was produced in 1947 and with construction beginning in the 1950s. The plan hit opposition and funding limitations in the 1970s and by 2004 some 61% of the original planned network had been completed.

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The Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange is a stack interchange near the Athens and Watts communities of Los Angeles, California.

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The Inland Empire (I.E.) is a region in Southern California. The term may be used to refer to the cities of western Riverside County and southwestern San Bernardino County. A generally broader definition will include eastern Los Angeles County cities in the Pomona Valley, and/or the desert community of Palm Springs as well as its surrounding area; a much larger definition will include all of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The term “Inland Empire” is documented to have been used by the Riverside Enterprise newspaper (now The Press-Enterprise) as early as April 1914. Developers in the area likely introduced the term to promote the region and to highlight the area’s unique features. The “Inland” part of the name is derived from the region’s location, about 60 miles (97 km) inland from Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. The area has a population of approximately 4.2 million people.

 

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