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Pittsburgh citizens not surprised city is tops

In Pittsburgh they are crowing. But in other cities there is indignation. Pittsburgh, according to ``experts'' at publishers Rand McNally, is ``The Best Place to Live in America.''

``I could have told you that years ago,'' says Margaret Lesko of McKeesport, Pa., which is considered part of the metropolitan area included in the survey. ``We all had smiles on our faces,'' she says.

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Mayor Richard D. Caliguiri says he's always maintained that Pittsburgh is one of the country's best kept secrets. ``And now everybody knows,'' he says.

But mention the survey to someone outside western Pennsylvania, and you're apt to be met with scepticism.

``Have you heard that Pittsburgh is ranked as the best place to live in the country?'' one woman asked her friend on a crowded New York City subway last week.

``Have you heard that they ranked New York City transportation the best in the country?'' she replied. Both laughed.

Rand McNally's Places Rated Almanac recently looked at 329 cities and ranked them in nine categories, ranging from climate to crime to the economic outlook. Pittsburgh was not No. 1 in any of the categories. Its highest ranking was education, where it was listed as 7th best. But Pittsburgh also was not ranked poorly anywhere. Its lowest rankings were in housing and economics where it landed in the middle of the rankings.

New York City, on the other hand, received three top rankings -- in health care and environment, transportation, and the arts. Why is it only the 25th most desirable city to live in? Consider that New York was ranked the worst city for crime and one of the worst for housing.

The national image of Pittsburgh may be that of a heavily polluted steel mill town with a pro-football team that can be quite ferocious. In fact, the air in Pittsburgh is usually clean these days. This is partly because of antipollution measures and partly because so many of the steels mills have been idled.

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And the downtown area of Pittsburgh sparkles with gleaming skyscrapers; 15 Fortune 500 corporations make their headquarters here. One New York businessman who visits the city frequently remarked on the quality restaurants he has discovered there.

But the Rand McNally rating also reflects efforts the city has made to ``improve all facets of life in Pittsburgh,'' says Mayor Caliguiri, who cites the city's Renaissance II redevelopment project.

Still, one Pittsburgh-area resident recommends asking the man who is out of work and can't pay the bills, before judging the quality of life in the city.

Mike Stout, an organizer for the Tri-State Conference on Steel, says it is true that the city is doing well, but says the powers-that-be have written off the Monongahela Valley, where many closed steel mills have meant high unemployment.

The other top-10 cities to live in, ranked order were: Boston; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; San Francisco; Philadelphia; Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y.; St. Louis; Norwalk, Conn.; and Seattle. (see correction below)

A March 5 story on the ``Best Place to Live in America'' inadvertently left out the city that ranked eighth: Louisville, Ky.

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