Homestead Waterfront Homes for Sale

#27 Homestead / The Waterfront

Pittsburgh’s Best Neighborhoods

Homestead Waterfront Map, Pittsburgh
Homestead is a historic neighborhood that’s been partially redeveloped up the Monongahela River from downtown.

Homestead / The Waterfront Neighborhood Description

I’ve sat and drank Garden Party beer after Garden Party beer debating with myself about whether or not to split the Waterfront neighborhood from Homestead as far as this list goes. The answer is cucumber. The second answer is go sit at Brew Gentlemen across the bridge in Braddock, because that’s a proper place to ponder profound questions while enjoying cucumber flavored beers. After getting hammered, telling the patrons at the bar you love them, smoking a menthol or two, puking in the alley, and unsuccessfully picking up on a woman with a very large Adam’s Apple, I’ve decided that Homestead and the Waterfront are indeed two sides of the same coin. (Her name was Candy, BTW.)

There is a criticism among urban planning circles that’s been brewing since about the early 2000s that challenges our utopian design perspective with the question of “what does authenticity mean, and can we design it?” How do you build a street environment that stimulates a feeling of authenticity? The Waterfront is a textbook example of the struggles such questions pose. Does The Waterfront feel real to you? Contrasted to Homestead, we have something that is truly authentic as compared to something that attempts to manufacture authenticity.

There are many factors to consider when looking at Homestead and The Waterfront. Let’s start with sales and property taxes. The Waterfront is an inner-city redevelopment that our retail industry friends at the ICSC would call a lifestyle center, which is essentially a mall but without a roof. All the national retailers are located at The Waterfront, and they are all cranking out sales and property taxes. So, if I’m a Homestead Borough councilmember, of course I say yes to such an investment, particularly in lieu of the fact that said taxes are replacing a mill that closed in 1986. If the investment is not coming to Homestead, then it will be located somewhere nearby, which will create what our retail industry friends at the ICSC like to call a bad case of leakage, and nobody likes leakage. Nobody.

Ok, so that’s the financial argument but we need to take it a step deeper and delve into retail recruitment, which is where the magic happens. There’s a Costco, a Target, an AMC, a PF Chang’s, a Lowes, an Alta, etc., etc. High profile retailers chose to follow ICSC’s development recipe within The Waterfront. They chose to follow it because it’s safe and predictable. Attracting such high-profile tenants is no easy thing, yet here we sit on the other side of successful retail recruitment. How many Rustbelt cities would kill for The Waterfront’s retail mix? (I’m looking at you, Detroit.)

And just across the train tracks from the pristine retail and design dynamic of The Waterfront is old Homestead – the exact thing that The Waterfront models itself after and wants to become – an authentic “lifestyle center.” The real side of the neighborhood is across the train tracks from the over-planned and in-authentic dynamic of The Waterfront. Contrived authenticity is better than having a shuttered mill, so props to those that made the magic happen, but true authentic can’t be replicated. It’s hard attracting high-income centric national retailers to a new development. I don’t disagree with the choices borough leaders made.

Nevertheless, if you want to pull a rabbit out of a hat, old Homestead is the place to make the magic happen.

Neighborhood Ranking Criteria

A Front Door

Waterfront Smokestacks Pittsburgh
It was brilliant preserving these old stacks in The Waterfront. They provide a neighborhood beacon that can be seen for miles around. They’re also an appropriate nod to Pittsburgh’s heritage.

Old smoke stacks may not be a front door, but they do create a great sense of place.

An Identifiable Center

W. 7th Ave in the Homestead Neighborhood, Pittsburgh
W. 7th Ave. is the old Homestead neighborhood center.

Homestead has two identifiable centers – old Homestead and the Waterfront. The former is more authentic than the latter, but they both have their own character, one real and the other contrived. I’ll buy you a drink on the real side of the neighborhood.

Boundaries

Homestead is a planned community, squared. You can see it on the street grid in old Homestead that it’s a planned community – symmetric, up the hill, a couple of central parks, strategically placed churches. That’s old Homestead. New Homestead is also planned. It’s a lifestyle center, or so says the industry association that portends to define such things. Trouble is the lifestyles of old and new homestead don’t necessarily align. Further, there’s not a whole lot of residential in new Homestead, so whose lifestyle are we talking about? Aside from traffic, how much does new Homestead add to the quality of life to old Homestead?

The added tax base is good, and I guess the locals can more or less walk to Target. Whatever.

Density

It’s mostly retail commercial in new Homestead. In old Homestead, there’s a commercial neighborhood center, with mixed land uses, and around the neighborhood center are generally single family homes. Tightly knit, but detached.

Detached Sidewalks and Streets Trees

Waterfront Neighborhood Pittsburgh
The sidewalks in The Waterfront are flawless.

Ok, I concede, The Waterfront wins on street trees and detached sidewalks. They are uniform and well planned. Into the residential areas of old Homestead, one finds a mature canopy that is perhaps a bit more random than The Waterfront. For Homestead, detached sidewalks are not a thing. There are sidewalks, which is great, and far more than I can say about other metro Pittsburgh neighborhoods that think they are hot stuff.

Diverse Architecture and Buildings That Address the Street

Homestead Neighborhood Pittsburgh Churches
Count how many churches are in this image.
AMC Anchoring the Waterfront.
Movie theaters are textbook anchors for lifestyle centers.

Mmmm… keep peppering those kisses on my neck, Homestead. You hurt so good in the architecture department. More than anything else, there’s like three churches per block in Homestead. It’s half crazy, and they are all ornate and fit perfectly into the dynamic of the community. All those churches define Homestead’s architectural narrative. If you’re a kid growing up in Homestead, I suspect what you’ll remember most is something along the lines of “I remember skipping class and smoking cigarettes on the grounds of The Sister’s of the Poor,” or, “I remember sneaking out of my house at night and making-out with Kim Kallestead on the stairs of Saint Flanigan’s, and we smoked cigarettes and laughed.”

Homestead lends itself well toward childhood hijinks, smoking cigs, making out with girls – as well-designed neighborhoods are wont to do. Your parents will like it, too. Far less can be said for The Waterfront. But the nice thing about textbook lifestyle centers is the recipe is all about walkability. Both sides of the Homestead coin are walkable. Unfortunately, spillover commerce from The Waterfront into old Homestead is minimal. How can old Homestead motivate those on the other side of the tracks to crossover? That’s the question. Further, as far as walkability goes, I would much rather walk around old Homestead than that sterilized hospital room they call The Waterfront.

Mixed Land Uses

The Waterfront is horrible at mixing land uses, which is my biggest gripe against ICSC defined lifestyle centers. Christ, guys, all you have to do is add residential above the commercial. Don’t tell me the pro forma doesn’t pencil out. Rentals or condos, the pro forma pencils. Do the math. Bankers, do the lending. My goodness, let’s just start with reading a book about how to build neighborhoods. Not to mention, the fact that you’re neglecting residential uses in your superficial recipe of a neighborhood testifies to your own incompetence. Stop leaving money on the table. Stop building things and calling them neighborhoods, cause The Waterfront ain’t.

On the other hand, the Homestead side of the equation is mixed up, diverse, and dope. That’s how to build a neighborhood.

Street Energy

Street trees on W. 7th Street in Homestead.
The sidewalks along W. 7th are tired. Good news is that’s an easy fix.

Downtown Homestead has a degree of street energy. With all the national retailers located on the other side of the tracks in The Waterfront, what we’re left with are the locals. Authenticity. Old Homestead is a study in contrasts with The Waterfront. There’s street energy in The Waterfront but it’s contrived. It’s like a Disney movie. Formulaic. Don’t risk offending anybody. Sanitize it.

Downtown old Homestead might offend polite society, which is precisely why it’s fabulous.

Streets That Generally Connect

Homestead and The Waterfront connect. Old, interior Homestead is on a well-planned and predictable grid as it charts itself up the hill from the Mon. Nobody is complaining about connectivity in Homestead, old or new. The active train tracks, however, that bisect both neighborhoods are a real son of a bitch because of the barrier they create.

Walkability

Old Homestead and The Waterfront score high in the Walkability category. One could quite easily live in the neighborhood with a car.

Opportunities For Improvement

Homestead Residential Neighborhood Pittsburgh
Churches dominate Homestead’s skyline and architectural dynamic.

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I have a love-hate relationship with The Waterfront, and I suspect residents of old Homestead feel the same way. It’s a losing proposition to say no to The Waterfront. Saying no to The Waterfront would have only continued Homestead’s decline. Thus, the question is about leverage. How does a small borough (in decline with a closed mill) called Homestead partner with big money to reinvent itself? The magic about public/private partnerships and, gasp!, incentives to developers, is they require a contract. The funny thing about contracts is savvy public officials understand that extraordinary design and city building expectations are a part of the bargain. I.e., yeah we have our stupid, antiquated, Euclidean zoning code but, as a part of this contract, the deal is you’re going to build a real effing neighborhood (among other things). You’re going to go above and beyond our minimum standards in exchange for public incentives.

Public incentives are not a giveaway. Incentives are a means to hold developers to a higher standard.

The Waterfront is a mix of walkability, suburban big box, and contrived ICSC industry nonsense. On balance, I think it’s good for the neighborhood and greater Pittsburgh as a whole, but only because it’s built there, as a lifestyle center, as opposed to Cranberry or Ross or farther flung suburban enclaves.

*Map boundaries are an approximate and not identical to Homestead municipal boundaries.