Polish Hill, Pittsburgh

#14 Polish Hill Neighborhood

Pittsburgh’s Best Neighborhoods

Polish Hill Neighborhood Map Pittsburgh
A cornerstone Pittsburgh neighborhood, Polish Hill puts the P in Pittsburgh.

Polish Hill Neighborhood Description

Polish Hill is old Pittsburgh – smoky corner bars, ethnic shops, ornate churches, high density, and steep slopes. But the old Pittsburgh of Polish Hill is giving way to increased market demand courtesy of its positioning between Oakland and the Strip District, which are active real estate markets. Which is to say, if you’re priced out of the Strip or Oakland, Polish Hill is a fine alternative. Polish Hill is also a premier example of authentic Pittsburgh character. The neighborhood drips with old Yinzer. Tightly knit row houses, many with great views, tucked into the hillside and threaded together with narrow streets, steep slopes, and easy access to everything. Polish Hill is the working man’s version of a European hillside village. 

Neighborhood Ranking Criteria 

A Front Door 

Polish Hill gateway sign.
That gateway sign is a start. Just don’t tell me it’s finished.

A few signs notify the traveler that they’ve entered the neighborhood. Regardless of gateway signage, travelers are well aware they’re in a new place courtesy of the steep slope they have to climb to get there. 

An Identifiable Center 

Immaculate Heart of Mary Church Polish Hill
Apparently, size matters for the Polish. Immaculate, indeed. This Catholic church is Polish Hill’s neighborhood beacon.

With no distinct commercial corridor, The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church serves as both a neighborhood architectural beacon and the center of Polish Hill.   

Boundaries 

Being built upon a steep hillside, Polish Hill has distinct boundaries. Travelers are well aware when entering and leaving the neighborhood. To make matters more distinct and challenging from an accessibility perspective, there is an active railroad track that encircles the bottom of the hill. 

Density 

Of Pittsburgh’s many historic, inner-city neighborhoods, Polish Hill is every bit as dense as the rest of them, but the neighborhood does apparently have its fair share of single-family homes, tightly knit as they are, which helps to add more architectural elements above and beyond historic row houses.    

Detached Sidewalks and Street Trees 

Wide sidewalks on Polish Hill.
Parts of Polish Hill support luxuriously wide sidewalks.
Polish Hill narrow sidewalks.
Less luxurious sidewalks on Polish Hill courtesy of narrow right of ways.

There’s really not enough room for detached sidewalks given the neighborhood’s predominantly narrow streets. For what street trees do exist, they are sparse and un-uniform in nature. 

Diverse Architecture and Buildings That Address the Street 

Polish Hill front porches.
Moving in is a real pain. Good news is you’re now living in a dope neighborhood.

Multi-story brick buildings interact with rows of townhouses that interact with single family homes. But the real gem is The Immaculate Heart of Mary church. Of the dozens of amazing churches located in Pittsburgh, one could argue The Immaculate Heart of Mary competes for top honors.  

Mixed Land Uses

Polish Hill mixed land uses.
Coffee, then a mass. Updated mixed land uses have arrived in Polish Hill — signs of market energy.
Polish Hill corner bar.
Shot of Jameson and a High Life, then a mass. Polish Hill’s dated mixed land uses are authentic. I bet you can smoke a cig in there.

Proper corner bars, coffee shops, some random retail, and churches create the bulk of mixed-use options in Polish Hill, which is still far superior to anything called Cranberry or Robinson. 

Street Energy 

You won’t find shops spilling out onto the sidewalks in Polish Hill like you do in the Strip District. Nevertheless, the neighborhood’s density lends itself well to neighbors milling about. 

Streets That Generally Connect 

The steep hillside slopes don’t lend themselves well to connectivity. Thankfully, old school Pittsburghers weren’t deterred by little things like steep slopes and insisted on connecting roads in the neighborhood. Today’s traffic engineers would never allow for such things, which is why today’s traffic engineers have nothing on old school Pittsburghers.  

Transit Access 

Regular old buses serve Polish Hill. 

Walkability 

The neighborhood is plenty walkable. Challenge is once you walk down the hill you must walk back up. 

Opportunities for Improvement 

Polish Hill is a tough nut to crack as far as improvements go given its steep topography and access limitations. Nevertheless, tough nuts deserve cracking, too, starting with improving all the public stairways that provide access to and circulation around the hill. Many are worn out from neglect and lack of maintenance. A few are even closed because they’ve reached the point of being dangerous. Embrace the public stairways and fix them.

Additionally, lot by lot infill and blight remediation is a necessity throughout Pittsburgh and Polish Hill is no exception. Otherwise, to the extent the street right of way provides enough room, trees and softening the urban landscape with ornamental colors would create a more inviting neighborhood.

Now, the fun part. Let’s talk about realistic big ticket items. Providing more vehicular access points is a good idea but an expensive one considering the need to construct bridges over the railroad tracks that mostly surround the neighborhood. Thus, screw the bridges and opt for gondolas that bring people down into the Strip District and down into Bloomfield. I’m not kidding. Want to be an absurdly unique international destination? I sure do. Gondolas are relatively affordable, unique, and dope in so many ways. Ski areas are all about the gondolas, and they make their money selling $15 Hottie-Totties and $7 hot chocolates to suburbanites and their bratty kids — not great margins. A gondola is more affordable than a bridge, provides the same access, but a far superior placemaking opportunity for the neighborhood, the city, and the region. They would also bring a lot of curious visitors up into Polish Hill. A savvy developer could build a Gondola Oriented Development (GOD) up top.