Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?

On his popular children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers made many trips to factories and other businesses, many of which were in Pittsburgh, where his show was produced. These memorable segments served to make hidden labor visible, emphasizing the societal value of a variety of jobs and the importance of each worker’s contributions. For Open Engagement 2015, which took place in Pittsburgh, Next Question gave a trolley tour entitled The Neighborhood Revisited, using Mister Rogers’ show to take a look at how Pittsburgh has changed over the years.  Our tour included both businesses that have continued until today, such as Reyna Foods, where Rogers filmed tortilla chips being made, and the former sites of factories that have relocated, such as Heinz, where Rogers spoke to workers making vegetable soup. Once a major presence, Heinz no longer has any manufacturing operations in Pittsburgh—today the historic factory building Fred Rogers visited is part of the Heinz Lofts, upscale apartments along the river’s edge.

As we took a look at both functioning businesses and the sites of former operations, our tour led us through many of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, including Oakland, Squirrel Hill, Bageland, Point Breeze, Homewood, Larimer, East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, the Strip District, the North Side , the South Side and Downtown. In addition to the sites Rogers visited in field trips, we also took a look at sites associated with the show, such as the WQED studio where it was produced, and the some of the places where Rogers lived or was often sighted. The tour included a visit to the Heinz History Center, where much of The Neighborhood of Make Believe is now on display and where Mister McFeely, who often accompanied Rogers on his tours, appeared as a surprise guest. 

Examining the changes in Pittsburgh meant looking at the effects of urban planning and development, economic shifts, and changes in the population. The city’s neighborhoods are in constant flux, part fiction, part fact, always under construction both mental and physical, their borders, their ownership and their meaning in constant contention.

And although the Mister Rogers’ show was organized around the idea of a neighborhood as a place, its stability came rather from Rogers’ ideas about human relations, as he strove to offer his true self to every other person he interacted with, whether it was a worker in the real world, an actor, or a child at home watching the show.  Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood itself is a rather fragmented place, composed as it is of fictional elements such as actors, sets, puppets and dioramas combined with real elements from a variety of places throughout the United States including Pittsburgh. Like Pittsburgh, it cannot be recovered, or viewed as a whole, only tracked and traveled through, its traces examined for the stories they tell about our relationships with one another, political, economic and personal.

We would like to thank Open Engagement and The Sprout Fund.