Mis.Steps: Our Missed Connections with Pittsburgh’s City Steps

Laura Zurowski (US)

Blue Bird Sessions on Wednesday 28 October 08:00 EST (12:00 GMT) @lzurowski

Note: this event will take place on Twitter

Pittsburgh has more public staircases than any city in the United States. With over 739 sets of stairways – containing more than 45,000 individual steps – public staircases were an engineering approach to mass transportation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that addressed the topography upon which the City is built. Located at the confluence of two rivers which cut through elevated land of the Appalachian Plateau, the city is settled at elevations ranging from 710 to 1,370 feet (220 to 420 m) above sea level. 

Constructed to bring workers from the “houses in the hills to the riverfront mills”, the earliest public staircases date back to the 1860s and were constructed from wood. However, a significant city-wide investment in municipal infrastructure occurred in the post-WWII era when the city’s population crested at nearly 700,000. Despite the recent decades of faltering economies and significant depopulation, almost all the public staircases are still viewable if not traversable. In 2017, writer and photographer Laura Zurowski began systematically documenting the stairways and to-date has visited over 500 locations throughout the city’s 90 neighborhoods.