Oakland Outlook: Feeling welcome by walking

Oakland Outlook is a bi-weekly blog written by TPN staffers chronicling their experiences as college students living in Oakland.

More stories from Sarah Stager


Sarah Stager | Contributing Writer

Oakland from Pitt’s upper campus.

Before coming to Pitt, I was a resident of the rural portion of York, where the population of trees is higher than the population of people, and my home was only a couple heavily forested miles away from a massive lake surrounded by trails. There are countless hiking routes in the area, each more scenic than the last, and in York, there’s not much else to do. So I developed a hiking habit.

Coming from such a place, I was more than a little overwhelmed when I arrived in Pittsburgh. I didn’t know where I was going or how to ride the 10A, much less how to ride the Port Authority buses. But one thing I did know was that in order to enjoy my time at Pitt, I was going to have to make the City my home — starting with Oakland.

Walking in Oakland is a distinct experience. Every neighborhood of Pittsburgh has its own flavor, and Oakland receives its spice from the sheer number of students that inhabit it. Even within the neighborhood, this student life expresses itself in different manners. South Oakland is the party region, where you can go to see ramshackle student housing and various alcohol bottles proudly displayed on windowsills. North Oakland is almost the exact opposite — it’s where the permanent residents of Oakland find their home in neatly groomed houses and well-shaded private drives. Sprinkled among these houses are the occasional student apartment buildings, where those who wish to reside in quieter conditions can find their homes. Central Oakland is the hub, of course, where you can find our own University of Pittsburgh, as well as Carnegie Mellon University and plenty of fun shops to explore.

Eventually, you will know these neighborhoods and navigate them with ease, but first, you have to get lost. When I started walking — or running depending on my mood — I would get lost all the time. More often than not, I had no idea where I was. But that’s the convenient thing about being in a city: if you know just a few main streets, like Fifth, Forbes and Centre, you can usually navigate your way back to campus with ease.

It’s a well-kept secret that being lost can be fun. Even when I run now, I try my best to get lost (but it’s getting harder and harder). Being lost is a nice puzzle — you may not know where you are now, but when you manage to figure it out (and you will manage to figure it out), you’ll feel like the smartest person in the world, a true city slicker. Think about the direction from which you came, and look for an opportunity to turn onto a street that will take you back that way. Look for our lovely lady, Cathy. Read the Port Authority signs. Ask a random (preferably unsuspicious-looking) person for help. In times of dire need, pull up Google Maps. But try your very best not to turn back the way you came — that’s not in the spirit of adventuring.

There are plenty of ways to traverse Pittsburgh — such as by car (if you’re particularly lucky), Port Authority, a ride-sharing service, biking and hoverboarding, just to name a few — but walking and running are different from all of those. Those modes of transportation require an extra item — a distraction — but when you’re walking, it’s just you, your legs and the streets of Oakland. In a way, it’s very freeing. You have complete power over where you go, what you do there (if anything) and how and when you find your way back. You could stop into a cute cafe that you see along the way — Redhawk Coffee on Meyran Avenue might be a good place to start — check out an unusual local business, like the much-lauded Las Palmas on Atwood Street, or even pick up some trashy takeout at Szechuan Express on Oakland Avenue to completely neutralize any calories you just burned. There are so many of these places in Oakland, and you get the best view of them as a pedestrian.

When walking, even if it’s just your daily commute to class, keep your eyes peeled and your ears sharpened. You might just see a tree bursting into full autumn attire, a particularly lovely stranger or stunning architecture that you’d never quite appreciated before, especially if you head over to North Oakland to explore the impeccably landscaped mansions that line the streets. You can enjoy for a little, then move on to the next wonder. Perhaps you’ll hear the distortedly happy sounds of a far-off event — there’s always something happening Oakland — or the rhythms of comfortable conversations as they whisk past and, of course, the always present woosh of vehicles traversing the City.

You can always walk to your own soundtrack. I find I have the most fun when I’m listening to a particularly bouncy song — “Sunday Best” by Surfaces is the first to come to mind — or a smoother, jazzy soundtrack in which you can truly luxuriate — my personal favorite in this category is “To The Moon” by Isaac Waddington. I could go on about music for days, but of course, everyone has their own taste and your walking accompaniment should be the music that you find brings you the most joy.

The only downside to walking as a hobby is that it can be quite time-consuming if you want to go anywhere special. Luckily, for first-time explorers, this is not the case. All of Oakland, from Boulevard of the Allies to Centre Avenue, will be new to you. You don’t have to dread this feeling of newness — savor it, because it won’t last forever. Eventually, you’ll know exactly where you are, where you’re going and where you’ve been. You’ll have your comfortable routes and your favorite streets, where memories are stacked on every corner. Oakland will be your home — but you’ll still have the rest of Pittsburgh to explore.