#14 Observatory Hill
Pittsburgh’s Best Neighborhoods
Observatory Hill Neighborhood Description
Observatory Hill is Pittsburgh proper’s northernmost neighborhood. It’s quietly tucked upon a hilltop overlooking inner ring suburbs to the north and pretty much the whole of Pittsburgh to the south. You can measure the Yinzer within a Pittsburgh neighborhood by the number of homes that adorn awnings, and Observatory Hill is one of the metro’s most Yinzer neighborhoods. The neighborhood is true black and gold. If you’re looking to get an authentic taste of old-school Pittsburgh, Observatory Hill abides. Locals know about the area, but visitors and newcomers will likely never step foot in it unless they happen to buy a home there. Homes are detached with yards but are still tightly knit on mostly narrow roads that weave to the top of the hill. The neighborhood is walkable with a traditional neighborhood center at the bottom of the hill and an old ballfield at the top. Although much of the Pittsburgh livability experience centers around rows of old townhomes, Observatory Hill is its own thing tucked away in the corner of the city overlooking its higher density peers.
A Front Door
Highway 19 weaves through Pittsburgh’s northside up to Observatory Hill and provides the neighborhood’s primary access. The gateway into the neighborhood leaves much to be desired but it’s better than nothing.
An Identifiable Center
Observatory Hill shares a neighborhood center with the Perry North neighborhood. On official city maps, bureaucrats at city hall lump Observatory Hill into Perry North without distinction. I am not a bureaucrat at city hall, nor is Observatory Hill part of Perry North.
Hilltops make for easy boundaries. Aside from the gentle downward slope into Perry North, Observatory Hill’s boundaries are the steep slopes that lead up to it.
Observatory Hill’s commercial center is rimmed by three story tall, higher density structures. Otherwise, the neighborhood is dominated by single family homes.
Detached Sidewalks and Street Trees
Detached sidewalks are a challenge for the neighborhood because many of the streets are narrow to accommodate for building along the slope of a hill. Unfortunately, such realities also mean many sidewalks and curbs were sacrificed altogether.
Diverse Architecture and Buildings That Address the Street
Observatory Hill scores well in this category. The vast majority of homes and commercial structures speak to the street and there are several design fonts for the residential architecture within the neighborhood.
Mixed Land Uses
The neighborhood center being on the edge of the neighborhood, Observatory Hill’s predominant mixing of land uses is quintessential Pittsburgh – churches and houses. The neighborhood is still walkable, however. Numerous needs are met by the short walk down the hill to the commercial area. It’s having to walk back up that poses a challenge.
Observatory Hill isn’t much for street energy aside from casual strolling, although the girl at the sandwich shop told me the neighborhood was bustling once upon a time.
Streets That Generally Connect
You gotta love old school transportation engineers; ya know, the ones that just winged it before standardized engineering manuals ruined cities by neutering their ability to exercise creativity. Despite the steep slopes, streets weave and connect in Observatory Hill. If built today and subject to standardized bologna, the neighborhood would look far different and for the worse.
Just regular old buses serve Observatory Hill.
You can live in Observatory Hill without a car and have most of your needs met within a short walk. Unfortunately, the nearest grocery store and Target and those sorts of things are down the hill in the inner ring suburbs.
Opportunities for Improvement
Observatory Hill is like that old aunt of yours still hanging on to early 1980s styling. She still perms her hair. She likes aerobics videos. She has a VHS player. Awnings above her windows. Those sorts of things. Observatory Hill’s neighborhood center is in good shape, but it needs a draw that attracts people in from across the metro. A fine dining or creative, farm to table restaurant would help and also match the scale of the neighborhood. Scratch restaurant up on Troy Hill is a fine comparable that draws people in from the outside and introduces them to an otherwise obscure Pittsburgh neighborhood. Redfin on Washington’s Landing Island is another great example. Observatory Hill is priceless because it is authentic Pittsburgh, it simply needs some sprucing in places and exposure to the outside world.