Southern girl going north.
December 11, 2011 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I just got a new job (yay!) in a far-away and cold city (Pittsburgh!). City-specific questions below and general advice on changing climates needed.

I am currently living in Baton Rouge, LA, and have lived in Louisiana my entire life (including a few years in New Orleans). I recently got a new job in Pittsburgh, where I will be working in a small new office downtown (exact location TBD). I am super excited about moving to a new place and all the fun that entails, but I am also starting to stress out a little bit.

My most pressing concern is finding a place to live. My company is going to send me up there for 3 days on a house-finding trip sometime in January. I need to be settled in a place up there for February 1. I would like to make the most of my 3-day trip. Any tips for finding a rental in a new city in a short time? Should I use an agent, or do the old-fashioned "drive around and look for For Rent signs"? Set up appointments via craigslist? It seems like such a daunting task to find a place to live 1,000 miles away!

I've read the recent threads on neighborhood suggestions in Pittsburgh (so helpful!). I am leaning towards Squirrel Hill and Lawrenceville at this point. Any more specific recommendations are appreciated. My criteria are:
* Fairly close to downtown - I don't want to be way out in the suburbs.
* Safe. Having lived in NOLA, my idea of a safe neighborhood may be a bit skewed. Basically, I want to feel comfortable walking around the neighborhood and don't want my stuff/vehicle to get stolen.
* Affordable. Until my house down here sells, my budget is a bit snug. Think <$1000. I prefer not to live in a large apartment building, and would like at least a 1 bedroom.
* Bonus points - a local watering hole where I can spend time with a book and a cocktail, maybe within walking distance; off-street parking; grocery store within 5-minute drive.

So, once I find an actual place to live, there are still lots of other things that I feel like I need to do to get prepared. My biggest concerns are:

* The weather. I feel woefully unprepared for living in a non-tropical climate. I have seen snow like, twice in my entire life. I don't own gloves or other cold weather gear. I have no idea where to start. Help!
* Transportation. I haven't lived in a city with public transportation. Do most people that work in downtown Pittsburgh take the bus? Is there parking downtown? My company will pay for either a bus or parking pass, but not both. Should I plan to be commuting by bus, and therefore find an apartment near a bus route? I am overthinking this?
* Driving in snow/Vehicle Maintenance. I guess this is linked to my point above. I have a Toyota FJ Cruiser 2-wheel drive. I have all-weather tires. I have no clue how to drive in snow, but I have lots of experience driving in torrential rain (are they similar?). Should I just avoid driving in the winter? Do I need to do anything special to my car to get it ready for the cold climate?
* Culture differences. Ok, I know I'm not moving to a foreign country, but what can I expect to find different as a south-Louisiana cajun girl?

Any other tips for a cross-country move or Pittsburgh specific tips are very welcome!
posted by tryniti to Travel & Transportation around Pittsburgh, PA (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Safe, fairly close to downtown, affordable neighborhood: Friendship. Just bought a house there. I moved to Pittsburgh last year (and grew up here) and have A LOT to say about it ;). No time to expound much now but I will be back in this thread later to add more suggestions.
posted by amicamentis at 10:48 AM on December 11, 2011

Can't really help you on the specifics of Pittsburgh, but I grew up in Maryland and then moved to NOLA.

Clothing: LLBean is your friend. They have great quality outwear and tell you what it's rated for in terms of chill. Layering is also good, particularly with silk long johns. It is just plain COLD.

My parents moved from NOLA to Maryland and my mother had a terrible time adjusting because it gets darker earlier in the winter up there and the sun comes up later. It's a latitude issue - they are just farther away from the equator. You wouldn't think it would make that much of a difference, but it does. So, consider that you might have some adjustment issues with respect to that.

As for the car, it is standard procedure in the northeast to have a winter emergency kit in the car, including the ice scraper for the windows and some blankets in case you get stuck, among other things. There were times when my mom even had emergency clothing at the office in case she had to spend the night there. This was when she drove rather than took public transportation to her job.

Driving in snow is different than driving in rain. At the first snow, I would recommend finding a deserted parking lot and doing some practicing. The good news is that Pittsburgh should have a good snow removal program for the city and major thorough fares should be cleared quickly. Unfortunately, ice is going to be more of a problem than snow in terms of driving.

Hope this helps!
posted by Leezie at 10:49 AM on December 11, 2011

Regarding where to live: I live in Philly and I found my apartment on Craigslist. I did a lot of searching on other sites as well (the kind of thing) and found the best prices on Craigslist. You might not find what you want, but it will most likely be cheaper than using an agent and you should be able to get a good idea ahead of time about pricing and such.

The weather: It's actually been pretty warm this winter so far, so you might luck out. But the basic strategy is to dress in layers. Where a cami under a sweater under a coat. Or even a button-down in between the sweater and cami if it's really cold or your office likes to turn the heat up. It might be smarter for you to wait to buy a coat until you move -- you'll have a much better selection up here, and by the time you move there should be end-of-the-season sales and you can get something nice cheap. Since you're used to the warm weather, I'd suggest getting an extra-warm coat -- a ski jacket kind of thing.

Gloves: knit ones are nice, but have tiny holes that let air through. Lined leather gloves are your best bet.

You'll want scarves and knit hats, and possibly earmuffs if you have sensitive ears. You'll also probably want snow boots. When it snows, plan on wearing boots outside and bringing work shoes with you to change into.

Driving in the snow is the trickiest question... I really recommend waiting to drive in the snow until you have someone who can teach you. It's only similarity to torrential rain is that it's hard to see through and makes things more slippery. But there's more potential danger IF you don't know what you're doing. Getting someone to take you out and teach you what to pay attention to will make all the difference in the world. The biggest danger is black ice -- where it's icy, but it just looks wet. Also there can be ice hidden under a new snowfall. The snow itself isn't a big deal unless you're out during a blizzard -- but hopefully they'll let you go early if it's blizzarding! Oh -- the car prep for snow: get an ice scraper and a brush (like this). If it's supposed to snow a lot, pull your windshield wipers up so they're sticking out so they don't get iced down (yup, I ruined a pair that way). If it's snowed, turn your car on and let it warm up for several minutes before even getting on the road. This'll make it easier to get snow off the windshield, too. Also try not to drive without clearing the foot of snow off your roof... when you speed up, this can go flying into someone else's windshield. While not really that dangerous because people are looking out for it, it's frankly just annoying. Also you probably want a small portable shovel *just in case* you get stuck. You can shovel out the snow in front of your tires to get unstuck.

And don't be scared of the snow! Most of what I wrote is "blizzrad/really bad conditions." A lot of the time when it snows it's just a coating or less than an inch, which is fairly innocuous in the grand scheme of things.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:00 AM on December 11, 2011

Get a coat that covers your butt. Leather sucks, wool is better (but be careful, some wool coats aren't heavy enough), or swallow your pride and get a down-filled puffer coat. It took me three years to come around, but they are wonderfully cozy. But making sure it covers your butt can't be overstate. (TN to NYC transplant here).
posted by kimdog at 11:28 AM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Used to live in Philly, seconding a winter preparedness kit in one's car and LL Bean outerwear: their "hunting boots" with Goretex liner are the snow boots I have settled on after years of getting my feet wet and cold with other brands. If you are used to a warm climate, there is absolutely nothing more demoralizing than having cold, wet feet. Get good snow boots and warm socks - I really like the SmartWool brand. If you splurge on one winter thing, make it snow boots. You can always layer a cheap coat over a warm sweater, but if your shoes let your feet get wet and cold there's little you can do about it.

I also wanted to say re: outerwear that gloves exist now that have metal threads in the fingertips so that you can still use the touch screen on your smart phone without having to take off your gloves, these are one brand: Agloves. I've found this to be really useful when you're outside and need to take a phone call - your hands stay warm.
posted by permiechickie at 11:28 AM on December 11, 2011

While it might be tempting to do some cold weather shopping while you're still in Lousiana, you're probably better off waiting until you get to Pittsburgh because you'll find a better selection of coats/sweaters/gloves/other warm things. If you can, borrow a coat from someone for your housing finding trip, and buy a coat then.
posted by asphericalcow at 11:43 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

You have two great options: Head east from downtown to neighborhoods like Friendship, Lawrenceville, Squirrel Hill, etc. There are "good" and "bad" areas to all these places, but everyone will be able to identify them, and honestly they are, with very few exceptions, probably all better than what you think of as bad in the New Orleans. Pittsburgh and environs are actually very statistically safe in general (thanks to large college age and elderly populations you get lower proportional crime and more disturbance, vandalism, etc. concerns rather than as much serious life threatening stuff). Go ahead and look as far out at the "Regent Square" neighborhood. I had a very affordable apartment for a while in the the Wilkinsburg portion of this area which had the advantage of lower cost (the schools suck), right next door to great walkable neighborhood and excellent bus service downtown.

Your second option is to look into the South Hills. I lived for three years in a house we bought in Dormont within half a mile of the T light rail stop. Pretty much anything in Dormont, Mount Lebanon and environs is pretty awesome and if you choose the right location you can have the convenience of transit to downtown on dedicated right of way (no getting stuck in traffic). and neighborhood shopping and stuff to do. That commuting arrangement is the thing I miss the most about living in Pittsburgh.

Downtown Pittsburgh is tiny geographically, so as long as you can get to any part of it easily you are no more than about a ten minute walk to wherever you will work. There are over a hundred municipalities in the county Pittsburgh occupies and more than 50 (iirc) unique neighborhoods within the city limits. Enjoy, and plan to live and explore in the variety for a year before choosing where you really want to settle.
posted by meinvt at 11:46 AM on December 11, 2011

I'm originally from California and live in Boston now. Having done the "move across country and into wildly different climates" thing for a job three times now, here is my advice for you:

1.) Instead of signing a year lease to start, put your stuff into storage and get yourself a 1 or 2 month sublet or find some corporate housing, if you can pull that off. You'll have more time to get the lay of the land and see what works for you. You'll be more likely to find a place you really like, although you won't have all of your creature comforts for a little while longer. I think the trade off is worth it, personally.

2.) You need the following items to survive the winter:

- Gloves
- A warm hat, or something that covers your ears
- A long coat, one that goes past your butt at the least.
- Waterproof boots
- Wool socks
- Clothes you can layer. It's all about the layers.
- Several scarves

3.) Get into the habit of checking the weather for the next day, every night before you go to bed - and in the morning as well. If you are out and uncomfortable in the weather, think about what you might get to make you more comfortable. Maybe you need a good hoodie, or a nice pair of leggings. We all have things that make us more uncomfortable than others. For me it's my hands being cold, for example.

4.) Whenever you're out, look at the things that other people are wearing in the winter. Check out their shoes, their coats and their scarves for ideas on things you can pick up to stay warmer when you're out in the cold.

Good luck to you on your adventure in a new city!
posted by pazazygeek at 12:20 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

This previous AskMe has some great tips concerning walking on snow and ice, as well as some suggestions for snow boots that you might find useful.

I grew up in Massachusetts and even as a non-driver, I have memorized the following: "always turn into a skid." But someone with actual driving experience will have better advice (or can contradict me if I've gotten it wrong).

Nthing suggestions that puffy down coats are warmer than wool coats and the longer the better. Since you're starting in January/February, you could get a down coat in the post-Christmas sales and then pick up a winter wool coat later and on deep discount (for the early spring/mid-fall-to-early-winter weather that is still cold, but maybe not cold enough for a big down coat). You'll definitely want a few warm hats and scarves (more than one as like umbrellas, you're likely to lose one or two).

Mittens are generally warmer than gloves, but can make getting your keys out or fumbling with your ipod more difficult. They do make mittens with flaps that sort of convert them to fingerless gloves when you need access to things.

I'd also suggest some type of messenger/cross body bag with a long strap. Down coats are slippery and it is a pain to always have your bag falling off of your shoulder when you are already weighed down with 10lbs+ of outerwear and freezing.

I've only been to Pittsburgh twice, but it seems like a great city. I hope that you like living there!
posted by kaybdc at 12:48 PM on December 11, 2011

* The weather. I feel woefully unprepared for living in a non-tropical climate. I have seen snow like, twice in my entire life. I don't own gloves or other cold weather gear. I have no idea where to start. Help!

Before you go, you might get a coat, hat, and gloves from LL Bean. Probably their "warmer" category will do you fine; Pittsburgh is not the arctic. Also at least one pair of shoes with decently nonskid soles. The rest you can worry about once you're there... I'm sure there will be people who'd be happy to help you shop.

I have lots of experience driving in torrential rain (are they similar?)

Not really. Snow and ice are slippy, but it feels different than hydroplaning.

Should I just avoid driving in the winter?

Nope! If you can, practice in an empty, snowy parking lot. If you can't, the rules are to accelerate and brake gently and for longer, and allow even longer than that for stopping, and to keep steering separate from accelerating and braking.

Remember too that Yankeeland is usually pretty good about dealing with snow. I can't speak to how well Pittsburgh specifically deals with it, but around here the roads start getting plowed as the snow is falling, and usually there's only appreciable snow for a couple of hours after it's fallen.

Do I need to do anything special to my car to get it ready for the cold climate?

It's possible your car might have slightly different oil etc than would be recommended in PGH. You could consider snow tires.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:57 PM on December 11, 2011

I have memorized the following: "always turn into a skid."

I've never found this helpful -- both directions are "into" the skid.

The simpler rule I was taught is just to steer in the direction you want the front to go.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:59 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've lived in Pittsburgh for seven years now, having moved from California and never having lived with snow before. I had similar concerns as you when I first got here.

With respect to where to live, the most important thing is to avoid tunnels and bridges. The suggestions of Squirrel Hill, Lawrenceville, and Friendship (or any of the neighborhoods near those) will be fine in terms of this. Finding a rental isn't too hard, there are only a few major agencies here (Mozart and Rockwell are two of them). If you call them up and give them an idea of what you're looking for, they can help out. Most neighborhoods in Pittsburgh are pretty safe, especially the ones that you have listed.

Get a thick winter jacket as soon as you can. If you're in doubt, something suitable for skiing will do. Get thick gloves too, no isotoner gloves (I've seen that mistake before).

The biggest surprise for me was actually lotion. If you have sensitive skin (and this is something you might not know since you've been living in the deep south), then you'll need to put some on every day because the low humidity during winter can wreak havoc. You can also get a humidifier too to help.

With respect to driving in the snow, the main thing is just drive a lot more slowly and brake earlier and smoothly. If you have all-weather tires and 4-wheel drive, you should be ok. You'll probably also want to avoid living on or near a big hill too for this reason. Get a snow shovel too. The past two winters have been pretty harsh.

The only other really big difference is the Pittsburgh left. Basically, if you have two-way traffic, sometimes cars will wait for the other lane to make a left turn before going (or sometimes they won't wait and do it anyway!). It sort of makes sense, because you don't want the other lane to be held back because of one car. The main thing is be prepared for people to make odd left turns when the light changes to green. Sometimes cars will wait for you to do a left too if you have your turn signal on.

Oh yes, and sports. Everyone absolutely loves the Steelers and Penguins here, and the Pirates too (when they're doing well). I'm not too much into sports, but it's hard not to get excited when everyone else around you is so happy that the teams are winning.
posted by jasonhong at 1:06 PM on December 11, 2011

My sister lives in Lawrenceville. She says, and I concur, that Lawrenceville is awesome. Pretty walkable, lots of bars, and restaurants, pretty affordable. She's splitting an apartment with a roommate, and they've got something like 2-3 beds and 2 baths for under $1000. Most of the rental properties are actually townhouses/rowhouses or sub-divided detached houses, not high rises.

You are, however, going to freeze your ass off. No two ways about it. It's not as bad as places like Boston, but compared to NOLA, it's gonna be ass-bitingly cold.
posted by valkyryn at 2:04 PM on December 11, 2011

Plenty of great advice here. Seconding the advice above not to buy your winter gear down south (they just don't stock anything warm enough.) And a humidifier can be really great in winter, especially near your bed at night. It'll help stave off winter nosebleeds (no joke). You may also find saline spray or a neti pot useful for that.

You don't need four wheel drive to get by safely in snow -- it'll mostly help you get stuck further off the road. Just take it slow and remember that it takes longer to stop, turn, or accelerate when there's snow on the ground. Also, plan for extra time in the mornings to clear ice or snow off your car. It's a hassle and it's even worse when you're in a hurry.

Nowadays one can mail order coffee with chicory (there may be some on the shelves, but it will be ancient as you may be the only one buying it, assuming you're a fan.) Same for grits; they're only gonna have instant (who even buys that?)
posted by asperity at 3:00 PM on December 11, 2011

South Pittsburgh resident. Don't let the bridges and tunnels intimidate you. Yes, they can be aggravating, but there are ways around the aggravation*. All the neighborhood suggestions are good. Lawrenceville is wonderful and was my top neighborhood in which to purchase a home, but I got outvoted by my husband's desire for some green in the yard. Public transportation from this neighborhood is good.

You should be fine in a front wheel drive car in the snow, as long as you take it slow. Pittsburgh is bad about clearing the streets of snow in a prompt manner, so take this into account when weighing public transportation vs driving every day. I rode the bus from south Pittsburgh to work (downtown and Squirrel Hill) every day for almost seven years and would go back to it in a second if I could.

Also remember that parking chairs, especially in winter, are still a very, very common occurrence here.

Wear layers, invest in some fun scarves, hats and gloves and buy a coat when you get here. If you need to run errands during the winter, going during the Steelers game (especially when they are home) will guarantee you clear roads and mostly quiet shops. And a credit card does well to scrape off your car in a pinch.

*Although most of the aggravation could be because the shortest distance between two points in this city is usually under construction.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 3:31 PM on December 11, 2011

I grew up in the south and lived in western PA for six years (two of those in Pittsburgh). I lived in Squirrel Hill, which was highly convenient as a grad student. Just a 5-minute bus ride to CMU's campus. But keep that in mind as you search for places to live. If you end up near any of the universities, or the neighborhoods where a lot of students live, the buses can get very crowded at certain times of day.

The snow's not terrible. The most annoying thing will likely be street parking, and having to move your car to the other side of the street for plowing and/or street cleaning throughout the year. Not a problem if you find a place with a garage. I found the major routes were typically plowed within an hour or two after the end of a storm, but side streets (especially the older ones that are still brick or cobblestone) could take quite a while longer.

I agree with the recommendation for moisturizing, whether through lotion or a humidifier, or both! My skin always got very try in the winter, often to the point that the skin around my knuckles would get all crackly, until I realized -- duh -- use lotion. Not something I ever had to worry about in the humid south. And yes -- layers. Hat, gloves, scarf, boots, earmuffs. These are all things I considered superfluous having come from the south. They are not superfluous. They are necessary.

Culture: there is a definite Pittsburgh way of speaking. Whether it's talking about "dem Stillers", going to the "Gian' Iggle" for groceries, or trying to figure out whether someone is talking about a tile or a towel (and why are they so terrible?!), you'll get just as much a kick out of their accent as they will yours.

Pittsburgh is great. I loved living there, and I go back to visit when I can. I hope you have a great time! Be sure to take in the awesome view of downtown as you come through the Fort Pitt tunnel. It's one of the few cities in the world with such a grand entrance!
posted by Nothlit at 4:48 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agree with most of what's been said and want to give a plug for apartments on the North Side, an area that no one has mentioned yet. It's pretty affordable and has the bonus of being walkable to downtown. Neighborhoods on the northside you might want to check out would be Allegheny Center, Allegheny West, The Mexican War Streets, Deutchtown.
posted by octothorpe at 5:12 PM on December 11, 2011

Something else I just remembered... after heavy snows, sometimes you'll see chairs on neighborhood streets. Basically, people are claiming the space that they shoveled their car out of, so don't park there.

Also, if you live in a place where you are expected to shovel snow yourself, be sure to clear out the snow within 24 hours. I believe there are some legal requirements for this, but it's actually much more pragmatic: the snow may melt and re-freeze into ice. If this happens on your sidewalk or your driveway, it won't be very fun trying to fix it.
posted by jasonhong at 5:20 PM on December 11, 2011

If you have three days in January, I would either use a rental company (Mozart was mentioned above) or set up some Craigslist appointments closer to the day. I would not just drive around looking for "For Rent" signs. There are always a ton of apartments/roomshares listed on Craigslist and I found my current 4-bedroom house for less than $1000 a month. If you are nervous about not getting what you want, I would recommend looking into temporary housing or a sublet (there are a ton of students that study abroad for one semester). There will especially be a lot of these in Oakland, which is college student central, but I am sure there are students all over the city.

Neighborhoods that fit your criteria well for Craigslist-searching purposes: Lawrenceville, Friendship, Bloomfield, Squirrel Hill, Regent Square, Manchester.

Neighborhoods that do not sound like somewhere you may want to start out in: Homestead, Homewood, Larimer, Garfield, Stanton Heights, Mount Washington (lots of very, very steep hills, nerve-wracking in the winter for those new to icy driving), Troy Hill, East Allegheny.

Layers are good, and a hat. Get a scraper for your car, one with a brush because I believe it is now not legal to go driving around with snow flying everywhere. There are good amounts of people working downtown that take the bus as well as a good amount who park offsite (many in the Strip District) and walk in. If I were you I would take the free bus pass over a parking spot.

So glad to hear about your new job! Pittsburgh is such a wonderful town. I get made fun of for how much I wax poetic about the views, the affordability, the fun things to do, et cetera ;). Welcome to the city!
posted by amicamentis at 5:41 PM on December 11, 2011

Never move a parking chair and park in the space. I've had friends who've had bricks thrown through their windows when they've moved a chair.

As far location, almost anywhere in the East End (including the neighborhoods listed above) would be good. I personally live in Highland Park and its pretty nice overall. Its a little quieter than Lawrenceville and our small business district is improving and getting a lot of great restaurants and bars. The North Side can be a good choice as well.

Pittsburgh's public transit has suffered some cuts lately, but it still can reliably get you downtown without much trouble. There are many express buses that take an old converted railroad track (the "busway") to downtown. You can get from the East Liberty area of the city to downtown in something like 12minutes. Driving will take longer. The exits from many of the downtown parking garages will take 20-45 minutes themselves at rush hour. Also a monthly bus pass is something like $90-- parking is a lot more, so it would save your company some money(and your time) to take the bus.
posted by buttercup at 6:14 PM on December 11, 2011

thermal underwear for the really bad days, and a pair of tights under your pants on the not as bad days.

Wool is your friend.

Do NOT throw hot water on a frozen windshield! Get an ice scraper, a bottle of de-icer spray, and make sure your wiper fluid is de-icer as well.
posted by Neekee at 6:23 PM on December 11, 2011

Response by poster: Oh my, best answers all around!

Thanks so much for all the advice. It sounds like I am on the right track as far as potential living locations, and have a steep learning curve ahead of me regarding northern winters!

Quick follow up - if you native Pittsburghians (?) have any good websites/forums/etc. where I can read up on the city, please feel free to pass them along. I am looking forward to learning more about my future home, and hope to meet some of you at a meetup one day!
posted by tryniti at 6:41 PM on December 11, 2011

Lots of great advice all around, and I'll probably think of more later, but to address your very last point:

Pittsburgh is made up of lots of little neighborhoods, many cut off by our geography, a river, a hill, a tunnel, a bridge. Due to this, it's often quite nice to find a place that is encapsulated and almost provincial unto itself. I have coworkers who will NEVER cross a bridge or tunnel if they don't have to. So be prepared that if you befriend coworkers from the South Hills, that they'll shake their head at you if you mention heading North to the LL Bean in Ross Park (our only store). Long term locals have "their" mall, "their" grocery, "their" Target/Walmart. It's a weird little thing that I think has sprouted out of our geography. (Also, a lot of suburbanites will marvel that you want to live in the city. MeFi as a general rule skews shockingly towards city dwellers, so don't be surprised if you have a few who say "you want to live _where_?"

Recent driving laws as mentioned above: any time you have your wipers on, you have to have your lights on (increased visibility). Also you have to remove all snow from your vehicle, not just let the wind take care of it for you (so it doesn't flip off and blind the driver behind you).

For reading: Our local newspaper.
posted by librarianamy at 7:56 PM on December 11, 2011

I lived in Pittsburgh for four years during college, but I came from Wisconsin, so I thought the winters were pretty warm. Pittsburgh is more wet than cold during winter, so waterproof boots are game-changers. Snow usually didn't last more than a couple days in my experience.

"The good news is that Pittsburgh should have a good snow removal program for the city and major thorough fares should be cleared quickly."
This is not true, unfortunately. The one time there was a real blizzard during my time in Pittsburgh (2 feet in a day and a half), the city was shut down for five days due to incompetent use of snow-removal resources. I've heard the city had an emergency plan that the current mayor ignored.

Pittsburgh is also a compact enough city that biking is often quicker than driving, and there's a burgeoning bike scene. That's worth a shot.

$1000 will go a very long way in Pittsburgh. I'll second Friendship: it can be a little rough around the edges but has some of the most beautiful old houses you'll ever see, is cheap, and is walking distance to just about everything.
posted by akgerber at 8:14 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some little thoughts to make the winter better:

- The above mentioned humidifier
- The above mentioned lotions. Think specifically about "summer" lotions (pretty and smell good) and "winter" lotions (for itching and deep moisture). Aveeno and Cortizone make good ones.
- Deep moisture body washes (again, Aveeno).

Don't be surprised if your skin changes a bit as you progress through the seasons. It's important to stay hydrated even though it's bleeping cold. Hot teas & coffees are tempting, but if the dehydrate you you're going to end up with chapped lips and itchy skin.

- Good chapstick.

Everyone else has covered the coat/boot/sock/glove issue. Also you might want to budget for:

- either an electric blanket or a heated matress pad. Turn it on 5 minutes before bed and it's oh so much nicer to crawl in.
- flannel sheets
- a winter weight (potentially down) comforter. Keeping in mind that it gets hot in the summer too, you'll probably want different weights for different seasons.
- slippers/robe, if that's your thing.

Other than that - welcome to our city. You'll find that many of us on MeFi love it here, so feel free to reach out and ask us specific questions. Good luck on the apartment hunt!
posted by librarianamy at 5:22 AM on December 12, 2011

We are in the process of moving to Pittsburgh ourselves, and have spent a few weeks hunting for housing. Because our budgets are similar, I can tell you there are many options for housing at that price point. My Pittsburgh friends have steered me toward Kamen or Franklin West property management companies, but a real estate agent we spoke with said we'd have even better luck sticking with our original plan of searching for individual landlords working through Craigslist.

I also wanted to share a link to this community guide prepared for CMU students; it's vintage, but the first 20 pages or so were really helpful, including the guide to Pittsburgh vocabulary. I cannot tell you how excited I was when I heard my first "yinz" while househunting on Sunday. Good luck, and we'll see you there!
posted by deliriouscool at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2011

The good news is that Pittsburgh should have a good snow removal program for the city and major thorough fares should be cleared quickly.

This is not true.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 8:09 PM on December 12, 2011

Increasingly, apartments proper and even rental homes are owned by rental companies, which vary in quality. Given that you're coming in at the off-peak rental time, I'd like to second your considering a 6- or 8-month sublet, of which there are plenty at the moment due to lots of students going elsewhere for spring semester. July/August as you probably know is when most yearly rentals start, so you'll see so much more advertised on Craigslist then. If you do go that way, Craigslist compulsively for the few days before you fly down here, and set up as many appointments as possible (do rent a car, map it out, and give yourself plenty of time)- the best stuff moves fast. I do like Pitt and CMU's guides to off-campus housing: here's a nice comprehensive list of rental companies. Although I'm not currently a student at either school, I've found roommates from their listings as well.

Another smallish consideration is what type of health insurance your company is offering. If it falls under the Highmark umbrella, North Side or Lawrenceville/Bloomfield/Friendship are nice because they are close to Allegheny General and West Penn hospitals, owned by Highmark. If it's UPMC, North Side is less attractive, but anywhere between the rivers is good.

See what your company will offer you in terms of a parking pass. It's definitely the better monetary value, but personally, I hate driving downtown due to congestion and construction, and would opt for the bus pass. I've been carless here for about seven months and am pretty content without one due to living in Squirrel Hill (walkable to Oakland and Shadyside and busable to almost anywhere). Something worth mentioning is that people referring to Squirrel Hill usually mean Squirrel Hill North, which is to say north of 376. There are plenty of great places to live in the southern section (and Swissvale has even cheaper rents), but the main concentration of shops and restaurants is centered on Murray and Forbes Avenues, with walkable proximity to Schenley and Frick parks.

In terms of finding stuff to do, look to the free City Paper. Having lived briefly in New Orleans, I feel for you if jazz is your music of choice, since it really isn't much of a presence here. I don't really know of any active forums apart from the Citydata one, but the blogosphere is active (a few to start you off here at the also-quite-useful Pittsburgh Magazine).

Happy to answer any questions about specifics or whatever, feel free to memail!
posted by notquitemaryann at 11:35 PM on December 12, 2011

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