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A book of "then and now" photographs of Pittsburgh, PA

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Time passages

  • Oct 22, 2013
Time is a funny thing, when things change so slowly that those of us observing it fail to note the change until, too late to correct or direct it the change has become an accomplishment.  Arthur Smith has compiled a photographic comparison of how sites in and around downtown Pittsburgh have changed when compared in pictures taken from the 1890s to 1950s to the exact same locations photographed in the late 1980s by Smith.  The changes are profound, some rendering the locations completely unrecognizable.  Whole swaths of streets and neighborhoods have been wiped out by highway expansion, urban renewal, and shopping malls.  The changes are not always or even often for the better.

What is noticeably better is the air quality.  Pittsburgh "back then" was a dirty city.  I use quotes advisedly, because even in my lifetime I can remember trips into the city along the Parkway East in the 1970s when the descent into town through the Squirrel Hill tunnels was shrouded by smoke rising from the riverside steel mills still in operation.  Even by the time of Smith's then-modern pictures, still early in the clean air legislation era, the air was noticeably clearer and distant details discernible.

The quality of the streets themselves is much better now, too, notwithstanding Western PA's reputation as a pothole paradise.  Many of the old streets were deeply rutted dirt, buckled cobblestone, or crisscrossed with freight railroad and trolley tracks.

Of course you may have detected a possible source of criticism of this book--now more than 20 years out of date, it too has been bypassed by unmarked time.  Three Rivers Stadium, which figures prominently in a couple of Smith's pictures is long gone, replaced by PNC Park and Heinz Field.  I'll bet many of the other scenes Smith has documented have also since changed beyond recognition except to those few longstanding residents and denizens who still "remember when" because those pieces of the now-missing past were central parts of their lives.  Time moves so fast that we can't bring things back, and we probably wouldn't even if we could (who wants the potholes and pollution we left back there?).   But we can at last take a minute to look backward and honor the time and times and places and people past.

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October 22, 2013
Thanks for sharing.
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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