Up until the 2010 census Pittsburgh neighborhoods contained at least one or more census tract and those tracts roughly (or wholly) confined to the border of each official Pittsburgh neighborhood boundary, depending on the decade examined. However, population decline in certain neighborhoods has made it so that several neighborhoods now share a tract. I bring this up to inform the reader that there can be major drawbacks regarding data analysis for neighborhoods that now share a border.
Take the South Hilltop neighborhoods of Bon Air and Beltzhoover as an example. The two neighborhoods are quite different regarding demographics; the former has been historically low poverty and majority White and the latter has been historically higher poverty and Black. But now that Beltzhoover is joined to Bon Air, it is impossible to assess how each neighborhood has changed since 2010 – at least with tract level data (which has higher quality estimates than block group data).
Likewise, Sheraden and Esplen are two independent neighborhoods that now share the same census tract as of 2010. And because it is now difficult to assess them separately, they will also share the same neighborhood profile and be referred to as the Sheraden and Esplen neighborhood area. This same method will be applied to all such neighborhoods that share the same tract.
The Sheraden and Esplen neighborhood area is located on Pittsburgh’s West End. For all intended purposes the West Busway acts as the area’s southern border, Middletown Road makes up much of the western border and Chartiers creek and the Ohio river makeup the northern and eastern borders, respectively. It is bordered by the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Chartiers City and Windgap to the west, Crafton Heights and Elliott to the south, Marshall-Shadeland to the east (to which Brunot Island is a part of) and is bordered to the north by the borough of McKees Rocks. Sheradan is accessible via the West Busway and the 26 from Downtown. However, due to Pittsburgh’s typography, it is noticeably less accessible if you’re coming from other sections of the city.
The Sheraden and Esplen neighborhoods are located in Pittsburgh’s West End region.
The bulk of the neighborhood area is comprised of Sheraden, while Esplen is a small sliver of land that hugs Chartiers Creek and the Ohio River valley. As such, this profile will primarily focus on Sheraden. The former was originally farmland while the latter acted as a railroad camp for workers who built the tracks that surround the neighborhood. Sheraden was founded by early settler William Sheraden. William divvied out his land for residential development and a railroad depot. His former homestead still exists to this day and can be found on Bergman Street (as pointed out to me by my friend Cam). The home is highly recognizable due to the joined sycamore trees which watch over the entry way; Sheriden’s grandson was a horticulturalist and cultivated the archway. Sheraden was annexed by the City of Pittsburgh in 1907.
I started my walk of the neighborhood near its “entrance.” Chartiers Avenue forms a bridge over the West Busway and the busway largely acts as the neighborhood’s southern dividing line. The former Langley High School (now Langley K-8) towers at the intersection of Chartiers Avenue and Sheraden Boulevard; the two of which serve as sites for the bulk of Sheraden’s scattered businesses.
Sheraden, Esplen and the West End in general are parts of Pittsburgh that I have few personal ties to. And this was something I was reminded of throughout my walk. Unlike previous profiles which covered neighborhoods on Pittsburgh’s Northside, East End and those in the South Hilltop and South Pittsburgh, the West End does not reveal (for me) any feelings of nostalgia or longing for the places that so many folks in its 11 neighborhoods call home. And that’s what makes exploring these neighborhoods so exciting. My best friend’s father grew up in Sheraden, and he visited his grandfather there until he passed away some years ago. I also remember that I once dropped my brother off in Sheraden so that he could complete a project for high school; he attended Bishop Canevin which is itself located in the West End neighborhood of East Carnegie. But minus exceptions like these, the West End is totally foreign to me.
Growing up in a low-income home in Carrick and Brookline meant that our ability to travel was at the mercy of how much money we had (which wasn’t much). And by “travel” I don’t mean to other states, let alone out of the country; I’m referring to the ability to travel to different sections of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s three rivers, intense typography and the Port Authority’s “in to town/out of town” bus system make some sections of the city feel particularly isolated and hard to traverse. While Pittsburgh residents may scoff at having to “cross a river,” doing so is a huge challenge for residents without a car and for those that have limited means to travel. I can easily recall all the times my family scraped nickels and dimes together to get enough gas money to go grocery shopping (because Brookline didn’t and doesn’t have one). I say all this to illustrate just why the West End is so foreign to me. I didn’t have family or friends there and we were broke. The result was that the West End may as well have been in another country. As will be detailed in a forthcoming post, I didn’t experience much beyond South Pittsburgh, the South Hills and the South Hilltop until I was late in my 24th year on this earth (with the exception of electrical jobs I did with my dad).
The factors that may literally or figuratively isolate Sheraden and Esplen from the broader Pittsburgh region also make them attractive in their own right. The neighborhood of Sheraden is divided into 4 main quadrants: north east, north west, south east and south west. While the northern sections are dense, urban and filled with children at play, the southern sections felt suburban and scattered (with some streets having no sidewalks). My walk revealed a compact, mixed race community that is truly alive. As detailed in my Knoxville profile, another mixed race community, true mixed race communities are rare in Pittsburgh. Sheraden felt especially alive in the north eastern section of the neighborhood. Black and White bodied children were at play, kids were helping their parents take care of their houses and adults were sitting on porches to escape the summer sun.
If I had to describe Sheraden in one word it would be “community.” In many ways, it felt like a fusion of Knoxville and Brookline. Like Knoxville, Sheraden was racially diverse and dense. And like Brookline, Sheraden was filled with children at play and had a vibrant display of neighbors who know and talk to one another (as opposed to the transient nature of so many of our college heavy communities in the East End). The exterior of Sheraden and the sections adjacent to Esplen were wooded, but single family homes and small – to – mid size apartment complexes dominated most of the landscape in the neighborhood at large. At times, the most north eastern section of Sheraden gave way to wide vistas covering McKees Rocks, Brunot Island and the mainland of Marshall-Shadeland, especially atop the slopes in the eastern section of the neighborhood.
Sheraden Park is large and acts as a sort of anchor for the neighborhood; everything seems to be built around it. The park is home to facilities and the Sheraden swimming pool. I’ve been an active, daily swimmer for over a year now and I took advantage of my time here to stop and take a swim. A few Black children were playing games that I played as a kid, but it was pretty empty otherwise. Anyone remember playing gator? After I finished swimming, I walked south of the park and explored the dense patches of housing on its western edge. My westward journey eventually brought me to an old skate park located off of Tuxedo Street.
I eventually came upon an elderly Black man who was tending to a plotted plant in front of his apartment off Ashlyn street. Ben has lived in Sheraden for 11 years and used to live in Beaver Falls. He came to Sheraden because he wanted to “get back in the thick of it.” Ben was kind to talk to me on such a hot summer day. He used to do maintenance work and we talked about his work, the work my dad did as an electrician and what he liked best about living in the area. For Ben, he loved his proximity to the Carnegie Library, Langley K-8, Sheraden Park and some of the scattered shops off Sheraden Boulevard and Chartiers Avenue. His street was quiet, apart from the laughter of children at play. But he took issue with the gun violence in the neighborhood. “I’m too old to be dodging bullets,” said Ben. He said this as he pointed east. Ben mentioned that the bulk of gun violence happens in the north eastern section of the neighborhood; a thought that worried me given the number of young kids I saw at play there. When I asked him how frequently the violence occurred, he said “not too often, but it shouldn’t happen at all.”
The comparatively high incidences of homicides, non fatal gun violence and aggravated assault with a weapon are subjects I also heard about via residents in Knoxville and Garfield, both of which are high poverty neighborhoods. While the Sheraden and Esplen area teeters on the edge of what would be classified as high moderate or high poverty, the neighborhood was subject to similar degrees of disinvestment, blight and poverty that I saw in Knoxville. And as detailed in both the Knoxville and Garfield profile, comparatively high rates of violent crime at the neighborhood level tend to be the product of prolonged in-opportunity, concentrated poverty and extreme segregation, according to a number of notable criminologists and sociologists. Crime is often most likely to be carried out by males aged 15-24 and a select few cause a disproportionate amount of that crime. And to restate what I’ve said elsewhere, while crime is still comparatively high in higher poverty areas, crime it still much lower than it was in the early 90s in most major cities. In fact, high poverty neighborhoods have seen the steepest declines in violent crime, overall.
As detailed in a recent piece I wrote in Public Source, concentrated poverty is overwhelmingly linked to communities of color in Pittsburgh (whether those communities be mixed race or those with black populations upward of 51%), and neighborhood poverty is often lasting – despite decades of economic growth and decline at the national, state and local levels. Concentrated poverty is the product of a troubled history of government led racial discrimination in the housing and lending markets, demographic change and market disruption that disproportionately affected Black people and low-wage workers.
Likewise, I found that racial segregation is often lasting in Pittsburgh. A regression analysis reveals that the relationship between percent Black in Pittsburgh neighborhoods is nearly one to one from 2000 to 2017 (0.93 at p < .01). Despite my research in this area, I was surprised by the strength of the relationship, given the degree of public housing that was demolished or rebuilt as mixed income housing in the late 90s and throughout the 2000s (and given the degree of market pressure and rising rents in several Pittsburgh neighborhoods). In fact, with the exception of St. Clair Village, which was a majority black public housing project (and now the site of what will be the largest urban farm in the U.S), the largest declines in percent black overtime were Downtown and the Strip. The Strip and Downtown likely declined in percentage black due to market pressure (i.e. rapid investment and increased residential demand) and/or population saturation as new households moved in (since few residents were living in these areas in 2000).
The Sheraden and Esplen area is an example of a Pittsburgh neighborhood(s) that has gotten poorer and blacker from the 1990s onward (roughly 18% to 29% poor from 1990 to 2017 and 21% to 41% percent black from 2000 to 2017). And when considering the combined standardized measures of homicides and non fatal gun violence per 500 residents, poverty, single motherhood and male unemployment, the Sheraden and Esplen neighborhood area is the 12th most disadvantaged community in the City of Pittsburgh, as of 2017 American Community Survey estimates and 911 data via Allegheny County analytics. Below is a detailed table regarding more recent changes in a variety of measures in the Sheraden/Esplen area over a 5-year period.
There are several factors that set Sheraden apart from other Pittsburgh neighborhoods. While I will refrain from looking too closely at differences between indicators in 2012 and 2017 due to sizable margin of error, I’ll comment on several things that stood out as of 2017 estimates. On the positive end of things, Sheraden is a diverse community. This was evident throughout the entirety of my walk. Neighbors talked with each other, children of different races played together and several residents stopped and said hello to me even though I was just walking through. Truly dense social networks were highly visible among and between neighbors. The neighborhood also has a male unemployment rate that is slightly lower than the average (but still comparatively high).
However, like other higher poverty areas of Pittsburgh, Sheraden is impacted by a comparatively high degree of gun violence. Sheraden ranked number 1 in 2017 regarding aggravated assault with a weapon in raw incidents (and 4th when accounting for population). When accounting for population differences, Sheraden had the 16th highest rate of homicides and non fatal gun violence in 2017 per 500 residents. However, it’s important to note that Sheraden’s ranking is comparatively much better than the two other high poverty, high gun violence neighborhoods we’ve profiled so far (Knoxville ranked 5th and Garfield ranked 8th on the same measure). The Sheraden/ Esplen area actually ranked directly below California-Kirkbride on homicide and non fatal gun violence per 500. And as detailed in Cal-bride’s profile, Cal-bride is an incredibly safe community considering its high degree of extreme poverty; which is another reminder that poverty and population demographics alone are by no means the only factors that contribute to neighborhood violence. Sheraden also has a rate of single mothers that is twice the average among Pittsburgh neighborhoods and is the 7th highest regarding rank, which add to the degree of disadvantage in the neighborhood.
Sheraden is a community that struggles with disadvantage, but it’s also a community that is diverse, filled with community activity and is home to a contained neighborhood that feels like it inhabits its own space in Pittsburgh’s West End. The community is also home to local nonprofits like the The Education Partnership, which provides school supplies to teachers and students of low-income communities in southwestern PA, and several local churches. Some of these churches promoted free lunches for low-income kids and others advertised upcoming summer events in the community. While the commercial corridor was sparse, several small markets and convenience stores seemed to attempt to fill the void of providing goods in the absence of a neighborhood grocery store; the West End appears to be one of the more obvious food desserts in Pittsburgh as compared to the availability of grocery stores in the city’s East End. I didn’t know much about Sheraden and Esplen going in, but I discovered an intimate, active community that folks seemed pleased to call home.
All neighborhood level statistics were gathered via census tract level data from the 2012 to 2017 5-year American Community Survey estimates. Citywide statistics were gathered via the 2017 1-year ACS estimates. The 1990 poverty rate was gathered via poverty estimates from the National Historic Geographic Information Systems. Crime data pulled from Allegheny County analytics. The University of Pittsburgh Library System informed which census tracts comprised a given neighborhood in a given year. Because some neighborhoods share a census tract as of the 2010 census, several neighborhoods were combined and are known as neighborhood areas. There are 74 unique neighborhoods and neighborhood areas used in the analysis. 2012 dollar amounts, incomes and values were adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index. Because the Sheraden and Esplen neighborhood area consists of 2 census tracts, neighborhood level estimates were calculated via a weighted average based on census tract to neighborhood population proportions.
ACS estimates at the census tract level have sizeable margin or error. This may impact results.
Snippets of broader Pittsburgh history were not cited because they are common knowledge. “Student heavy centers” include all those census tracts within known student heavy locations and those neighborhoods that contain a 4-year college or university.
In neighborhood profiles and data briefs, neighborhoods and neighborhood areas are considered to have a simple racial majority when a given race constitutes 51% of the total population. Otherwise, it is considered a mixed-race neighborhood.
Poverty intervals were informed by standards in neighborhood-level poverty research. Specifically, researcher Patrick Sharkey’s poverty intervals were referenced from his book Stuck in Place – regarding what constitutes an extreme, high, moderate, low or very low poverty neighborhood.
*The views expressed on this profile and blog are mine alone and do not necessarily represent those of my previous or current employers.*