Franklin Toker’s Pittsburgh: A New Portrait Takes Readers on Journey Through America’s Most Livable City

Issue Date: 
September 21, 2009

Just as Pittsburgh prepares to take the world stage in hosting 20 world leaders at the G-20 Economic Summit, Franklin Toker, Pitt professor of the history of art and architecture, has released the quintessential book on this city—Pittsburgh: A New Portrait (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009).

In the book, Toker introduces readers to the city’s colorful communities and their individual types of architecture. He examines Pittsburgh in its historical context (from Indian settlement to postmodern city), in its regional setting (from the playgrounds of the Laurel Highlands to the hard-working mill towns dotting the landscape), and from the street level, neighborhood by neighborhood.

Since its founding in 1758, Pittsburgh has experienced several epic transformations. It began as a fortress on a site originally selected by George Washington. A hundred years later, and well into the present, no other American city was as intensively industrialized, only to be later consigned to “rust belt” status.

“Remade as a thriving 21st-century city and an international center for science, medicine, biotechnology, and financial services, Pittsburgh is now routinely acclaimed as one of the most promising and livable of America’s cities,” Toker says.

What makes Pittsburgh so resilient and appealing? It’s the strong neighborhoods and their surprisingly rich architectural history, Toker states. The cityʼs lively urban communities are a treasure trove of every imaginable style of structure, from Victorian to Bauhaus, Gothic to Art Deco, and from Industrial to Green. According to Toker, “These ordinary homes expressed the aspirations of people who came from around the world to settle in Pittsburgh, while they built the city into an economic powerhouse.”

Pittsburgh: A New Portrait is receiving coverage in the regional press, as well as in L’Espresso, a weekly Rome-based news magazine. An article by Antonio Carlucci mentions Toker’s book as well as the University of Pittsburgh, and it depicts the Cathedral of Learning.