Old buildings get a fresh look during the Pittsburgh Festival of Lights. (Photo by Richard Dudley.)

Last month, I spent a glamorous, fun-filled, sawdust-flavored week in the city I know best as my hometown’s rival: Pittsburgh, enemy of Clevelanders everywhere. As an AmeriCorps member with Rebuilding Together — a national nonprofit that renovates and repairs owner-occupied homes for low-income homeowners — I was obligated to attend a workweek celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr, and his commitment to service. I expected to end the week with great memories and a sense of accomplishment; I didn’t expect to fall in love with the city of Pittsburgh along the way.

Our work was in the Homewood neighborhood, separated from wealthy areas like Shadyside and Squirrel Hill by an elevated busway. Cut off from the rest of the city, the early-20th-century houses dotting Homewood’s genteel streets have blighted and declined in value as residents who could afford to leave moved out. Pittsburgh has shared the Rust Belt’s general population loss, and impoverished neighborhoods like Homewood have been hit especially hard.