Becoming a Local: Using Apps to Discover Your City

by | Apr 8, 2013

Once upon a time, if you were a new resident in a city and wanted to find out the best place to catch an off-Broadway show or grab a slice, you had limited options. You asked friends, family and neighbors. You looked in city guides. And then this amazing thing called the Internet happened, and all of a sudden, all of the information you needed was just a Google search away.

But search isn’t enough for us anymore. We want information from people we can trust, but we want it instantly. We don’t just want to experience our surroundings, we want to share them. And so, we’ve adapted to using the best city guide we can find: our smart phones.

I moved to Pittsburgh in Summer 2011. For a year, I lived with two roommates in a house in Shadyside before branching off on my own in Highland Park. While during my first year of living in Pittsburgh I focused on my career and trying not to get lost on one-way streets in my neighborhood, I now claim the city as my own and find myself wanting to explore its culture more.  My quest to become a real Pittsburgher has led me to tiny dive bars on Carson street, vegetable stands in the Strip District, yogurt shops in the North Hills and more. I’ve been checking things off of my list like lightning… all with the help of the iOS app store.

Pittsburgh art is highlighted on Penn Avenue during Unblurred.

On Friday night, I decided to go check out Unblurred for the first time and wanted to grab a bite first. Unblurred takes place on the first Friday of every month in the Penn Avenue Arts district and highlights local artists throughout venues on Penn Avenue. Taking a liking to the reviews of Brillobox on Yelp, I searched for it on Facebook to see if any of my friends liked the page. The menu, Yelp reviews and seal of approval from my Facebook friends cemented my decision. And I’m not alone in using Yelp to review or learn more about a business. According to the site, they had more than 36 million reviews at the end of Q4 in 2012.

After dinner, we set off down Penn Avenue to check out eclectic works of sculptors, photographers, performers, painters and artists of various other mediums – all who call Pittsburgh home. It felt amazing to be walking the streets of such an amazing city, and I wanted to share what I was seeing with others. So I checked in on Facebook. I checked in on Foursquare. I tweeted about the art warehouse I ended up in, which I took photos of and uploaded to Instagram.

While I’m not sure if I chose Pittsburgh, or if Pittsburgh chose me, I’ve used Google Maps, Urbanspoon and other apps to make it feel less like I’m visiting and more like I live here. Part of the beauty of choosing a city to live in is sharing the intimate and amazing parts of it with the world. We no longer need to see a pristine shot from Mount Washington to want to explore the area. Instead, we’re drawn to the places in the photos our friends post online.

Features like the Facebook Graph Search have made falling love with the city even easier, as I can now search for friends who have been to all of the spots I’d like to check out and ask their opinions. Or, I can do a search for all of my friends who live in Pittsburgh and choose who I’d like to come along.

Just like those Pittsburghers before us, we experience the culture of our neighborhood by getting up and seeing all of the amazing parts on our own. We just simply have a GPS to get us there and 40 photo filters in order to share it with the world. We live in a beautiful city. It’s time we started using all of the tools we have in order to see it from a new perspective.

Which apps have helped you discover your favorite parts of your city?