The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project is a street by street exploration of the city’s 90 neighborhoods. As the beauty and uniqueness of each neighborhood is explored so too will the reality of lasting racial and economic segregation.
It took me two separate trips to complete my street by street walk of the racially mixed and high poverty South Hilltop neighborhood of Knoxville. In not making the greatest decision, I left my winter coat at home on a moderately temperate February day and regretted it almost immediately as the temperature began to dive. When I returned to complete my second walk of the neighborhood, I was prepared.
As mentioned in the Knoxville neighborhood profile, I have a close connection to the neighborhood. My mom grew up in the northern part of the Knoxville on Rochelle Street and my grandma lived there until she passed around 2007. I have an aunt and uncle who still live there and several cousins who I haven’t seen in at least a few years. Also, the very first rental apartment complex that I lived in with my parents and older sister is a block down the road from Knoxville in the northern-most part of Carrick.
For my first walk of the neighborhood, I walked southward from the northern border of Knoxville at Cedarhurst Street. And so, for my second walk of the neighborhood, I decided to start walking from Knoxville’s southern border near St. John Vianney Cemetery, which is where my grandma and other extended family members rest. As I walked northward and zigzagged through some of the winding streets and alley ways of the southern part of Knoxville, I noticed just how White the southern part of the neighborhood is – as compared to the section of Knoxville north of Suncrest Street. Knoxville is one of only 7 neighborhoods and neighborhood areas in the City of Pittsburgh with no clear simple racial majority as of 2017 American Community Survey 5-year estimates. And yet, it is still fairly segregated; something my interviewee agreed with.
In a moment of serendipity, given my realization and the conversation that was about to take place, I ran into an amicable, honest and forward Black woman named Dana as I walked eastward on Suncrest Street. She possessed character traits that I deeply appreciate. I stopped, informed her of the project and she agreed to talk, as long as it didn’t take too long given the cold. While I attempted to talk to several neighborhood residents that cold afternoon, Dana was the only one who wasn’t in a rush to get somewhere and she didn’t mind spending a few extra minutes outside in the frigid weather.
Dana told me that she was originally from Philadelphia and that she had been in Pittsburgh now for roughly 20-years. Before living in Knoxville, Dana had rented in several other South Hilltop neighborhoods including Mt. Oliver, Beltzhoover and Allentown. I mentioned that my previous neighborhood profile had been on Manchester and she excitedly said that she had lived there too. Dana mentioned that she’s been in Pittsburgh for so long because of family. At one time, she had a full scholarship to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but a set of unlucky circumstances kept her from going there. Around the time of receiving the scholarship, her dad went to jail, and she selflessly chose to stay behind and take care of one of her two sisters. She currently works in the service industry and has an affinity for good barbecue. She mentioned that I should check out the recently opened Fat Daddy’s just a few blocks down on Brownsville Road in Mount Oliver borough and I plan to.
When I asked her what her favorite part of living in Knoxville was she said, “Because it’s cheap.” Knoxville has the 5th lowest median home value in all of Pittsburgh and maintains rents that are comparatively cheaper than in demand locations on the City’s East End. For a brief time, Dana lived in Highland Park and said that she was paying upwards of $700 for a rental unit. Here in Knoxville, she was paying $400 something for the same type of unit. Her and her finance are saving up to buy a house, and Knoxville helps her save.
When I asked her about her least favorite part of Knoxville she immediately said, “Being brown and the cops. The shops on Brownsville Road don’t say “Whites only,” but as a Black person you come to understand which ones you’re welcome in and which one’s you aren’t. It’s tough being Black in Knoxville. And as a Black person you definitely avoid Carrick and you especially avoid Brentwood. And if you’re a Black person that lives in Carrick, well good luck to you.” She then asked, “Have you heard of Jonny Gammage?” And I replied, “No, I haven’t.” Dana went on to explain how Jonny was just visiting Pittsburgh back in the mid-90s and was killed by several police officers in the south suburban municipality of the very White and middle class Brentwood. All for getting stopped for his driving. When I looked up Jonny, I found a somewhat recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published after a cop in the municipality of East Pittsburgh shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Antwon Rose. According to the police officer, Antwon had “bolted” from a car during a traffic stop. He was only 17.
The article went on to say that Jonny had been “erratically” driving a borrowed car. Mr. Gammage was a mere 31 years old and died in the custody of the Brentwood police on route 51 in 1995. The cause of death was found to be asphyxiation, which was the result of the five police officers who tackled Jonny to the ground and held him there. Jonny was just visiting from Syracuse, NY. But to Dana, he was Black and in Brentwood. That’s the cost of being Black in the wrong place, and even in the “right” place. Three of the five officers were charged with involuntary manslaughter, but none were convicted. And in Pittsburgh the Black community arose in protest; much like they did after Antwon Rose was shot.
Dana passionately explained that she gets harassed by the police quite often in Knoxville. And even as I spoke with her at Suncrest Street and Roll way, not far from the McDonald’s on Brownsville Road, a few unmarked police vehicles and policemen had been patrolling the street for something or someone right before I started speaking with Dana. Dana mentioned a few occasions where she had been stopped by the police at night while walking home from her job in the service industry. “Sometimes after 12 hours or so on my feet I just want to smoke a cigarette on my walk back home. And I’ve been stopped just for walking and having a smoke,” said Dana. According to Dana, police officers would ask her invasive questions about what she was doing and why she was out so late, but she was just minding her own business and walking home from her job.
Being Black in Knoxville is complicated. As described in Knoxville’s neighborhood profile, in 2018 alone, 3 young men were shot and killed in Knoxville, two of whom were Black males, and many more Black men, Women and even children were the victims of gun violence in just the past few years alone. And as reported by the Pittsburgh Courier, 75 of the 109 Homicides in 2018 in Allegheny County were Black. As researcher Patrick Sharkey’s recent book Uneasy Peace details, and in a brief write-up of the book by NPR, crime is at an all time low in many American cities. And poor urban neighborhoods are significantly less violent than they once were in the 70s and 80s. However, high poverty neighborhoods like Knoxville are still disproportionately affected by gun violence as compared to low poverty areas in Pittsburgh and beyond.
And so, as described by Dana, being Black in Knoxville means that you need to keep an eye out for the police. And that’s a shame, given that the other reality facing both White and Black Knoxville residents is their exposure to the neighborhood level measures of disadvantage that are highly predictive of gun violence and the gun violence itself. Sociological research into crime shows that violent crime is often a matter of economic circumstance, systemically high rates of male unemployment and single mother households, drug trafficking and its connection to a loss of real economic opportunity and a product and reaction to the high poverty neighborhoods in which many low-income Blacks are born into. Meaning, “Black on Black” gun violence is often a result of economic circumstance, severe lack of opportunity and is simply a matter of proximity given the reality of how racially segregated high and extreme poverty neighborhoods are. “Black on Black” gun violence is not some moral failing of the residents who reside in these neighborhoods.
As urban researchers Robert Sampson and William Julius Wilson have explained, local culture may play some role in gun violence, but local culture is a reaction to the severe constraints that face the residents of durably poor and disadvantaged neighborhoods. Being harassed or even killed for the color of your skin is a matter of circumstance that is beyond a person’s control. And being born into a poor neighborhood is also beyond a person’s control. And yet, young Black lives are lost to circumstances like these every day.
The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project is deeply appreciative of Dana taking the time to stop and talk with me on such a cold winter day in Knoxville. Check out the full Knoxville Profile here. The views expressed in this article and all other articles of the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project are mine alone and may not represent those of my current or former employers.
*If this is your first experience with the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project, the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project is a street by street exploration of all 90 neighborhoods in the City of Pittsburgh. As each neighborhood is walked they receive a neighborhood profile detailing past and recent neighborhood level indicators and analysis, photos and observations from my walks, a brief history of the neighborhood and resident interviews like this one. The secondary goal of the project is to expose the high degree of racial and economic segregation by neighborhood in Pittsburgh and lasting neighborhood poverty. Data briefs address this secondary goal and are comprehensive statistical, geospatial and research driven analyses and extrapolations. Please check out the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project to see what I’ve analyzed and written about thus far.*
Once a thriving neighborhood home to middle managers of the Steel Mills that resided down below on the Monongahela river valley, the South Hilltop neighborhood of Knoxville is a topographically diverse area with a collection of flat streets and hilly avenues with modest slopes. The neighborhood is densely populated by brick single family homes and subdivided rentals. And no, I’m not talking about Knoxville, Tennessee; something I have to correct all too often when I speak of Knoxville to other longtime Pittsburghers (who did not grow up south of the Monongahela river). Anecdotally speaking, Knoxville is one of the many struggling Pittsburgh neighborhoods that seem to escape the attention and awareness of those Pittsburghers who don’t know the south end of the city beyond the South Side Flats. The neighborhood is bordered to the north by Cedarhurst Street, to the west by Beltzhoover Avenue and Tarragonna Street, to the east by Amanda Avenue and Brownsville Road and to the south by St. John Vianney Cemetery (the place where my grandma and cousins rest). The neighborhoods of Allentown, Beltzhoover, Bon Air, Carrick and Mt. Oliver Borough (the only suburb completely surrounded by city neighborhoods) are north, northwest, southwest, south and east of Knoxville, respectively. When atop some of Knoxville’s steeper slopes, the northern part of the neighborhood is in full view with the U.S Steel building towering over the horizon. Truly, Knoxville is a complicated place, but one that has always felt like home to me (and a neighborhood that I adore).
Knoxville is located in Pittsburgh’s South Hilltop region.
The neighborhood of Knoxville was named after the fruit farmer Jeremiah Knox who settled there in the early 1800s and was known for his strawberries. The neighborhood was once home to Shade trees that lined the streets. Several streets were named after Knox’s extended family and others were named after the literal fruits of his labor: such as Rochelle Street, Amanda Avenue and Charles Street, and Jucunda Street and Orchard Place, respectively. The neighborhood was a desirable site for farming because of two topographical shelfs that blocked out the smoke and smut from the Steel Mill below in what is now known as the South Side Flats, and shut out smoke from other mills lining the Monongahela river. The first shelf is a feature of Allentown and the South Side Slopes and the second is a topographical slope down from Cedarhurst Street. As the neighborhood became more accessible via the Mt. Oliver incline in the 1870s and via the Knoxville and St. Clair Electric railroad in 1888, the population began to increase and drove dense residential development. Managers of the South Side steel mills preferred Knoxville because of its low level of pollution and easy access to the South Side Flats. The neighborhood was annexed by the City of Pittsburgh in 1927.
Knoxville is 1 of only 7 neighborhoods and neighborhood areas in the City of Pittsburgh with no clear simple racial majority. The neighborhood is roughly 46% black, 40% white, 6% Asian, 6% biracial and 2% Hispanic or Latino – per 2017 5-year American Community Survey estimates. And it’s important to state that this racial mixing wasn’t by design. Like many other neighborhoods and suburban boroughs along the Monongahela river valley, Knoxville began to steeply decline in population as the Steel Mills shuttered and closed in the late 70s and early 80s. Even before the decline of the mills, neighborhoods like Knoxville were subject to the same sort of depopulation trends happening throughout the city as a whole from the 1950s onward – due to increasing suburbanization and White flight. And as the population continued to decline decade after decade, neighborhood churches, schools, local institutions and businesses on the Knoxville side of Brownsville Road closed as well. While there are no longer any secondary schools that are currently open in the neighborhood, the teenagers of Knoxville feed into Carrick High School – much like my mom did when she was young.
The neighborhood is a microcosm of the consequences of de-industrialization and depopulation across the U.S. As those who were able/willing to leave the neighborhood did, the poverty rate began to steadily rise. Only those families who were left behind remained, along with those families who intended to whether the change. Racial mixing did not so much occur via some package of intentional integration policies, but instead as the result of the demolition of Public Housing projects throughout the City of Pittsburgh (such as the former St. Clair Village in the 2000s) and by way of Knoxville remaining transit accessible and having cheaper rents (comparatively) than economically similar neighborhoods in more opportunity rich parts of Pittsburgh.
Despite my existing knowledge of the neighborhood from my spending time there as a child and teenager, my street by street walk of the neighborhood revealed just how racially divided the neighborhood is; something I had never quite realized when I was younger. South Knoxville appeared to be home to many White residents. I even spotted some “Don’t Tread on Me” flags dotted throughout the southern tip of the neighborhood; a reminder of the more conservative political tendencies of working-class White residents throughout the Hilltop and south Pittsburgh – despite their economic status and position. This feature was true of my own home growing up in Brookline, although as one that was quite poor. And obviously, not all working class White residents fall into this political category. As I walked north of Suncrest Street, the residents walking the neighborhood were increasingly Black. And despite notable exceptions of integrated groups of White and Black residents in the neighborhood, some of the Black residents I spoke to on my walk reinforced the notion of how different it is to be Black in Knoxville. Their resident interview can be read here.
Remnants of the once tree-lined streets are still present in south Knoxville and the housing stock is sturdy and compact. Much like my walk throughout Manchester, while dilapidated housing was littered throughout the entire neighborhood, its concentration tended to increase as I walked northward – especially so north of Bausman Street. A number of vacant lots broke open the otherwise dense housing landscape. But beautiful housing is present throughout the whole of the neighborhood and I have my own affinity towards my mom and Grandma’s old home on Rochelle street in the northern part of Knoxville. Wide open vistas of the neighborhood can be viewed at the top of the certain alley ways and steeples of closed churches still permeate the neighborhood; including the now closed St. Canice on Orchard Place – which was the place where my sisters and I were baptized into the Catholic Church. While a small number of bars and convenience stores reside on the Knoxville side of Brownsville Road, a number of former businesses are vacant. Aprimo Pizza, Napa Auto Parts, McDonald’s and the remodeled Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh also call the Brownsville Road business corridor home. While not in Knoxville, the bars, stores and convenience shops of Mount Oliver Borough are nearby.
Unlike the small portion of formerly disadvantaged and poverty-stricken Pittsburgh neighborhoods that are rapidly emerging in rent and home value and declining in poverty and other measures of disadvantage, Knoxville is like most other high and extreme poverty neighborhoods in that it has gained in poverty overall and has remained durably poor for decades. While Knoxville’s estimated poverty rate has fluctuated over the years, the rate of individuals living below the federal poverty line increased by 11 percentage points from 1990 to 2017 (19% to 30%) and the poverty rate has generally stayed upwards of 30% in recent years. High poverty Knoxville has also continued to see its population decline with a loss of 968 residents from 2012 to 2017 – with an estimated population of 4,333 in 2012 and of 3,365 in 2017. Like is found in most Pittsburgh neighborhoods that will also be profiled, steep racial divides exist between the Black and White population regarding median income and poverty rate – even in such a high poverty setting. While both the White poverty rate and Black poverty rate saw declines from 2012 to 2017 (a decline of 7.9% and 5.6%, respectively), the Black poverty rate is still 5.4 times that of the White Poverty Rate (43% for Black people and 7.9% for White as of 2017). And while the White household median income has increased from an estimated $43,757 to $45,794.00 over the 5-year period, the Black household median income has declined by a percentage change of 34% (from $27,972 to $18,537 or a difference of nearly $9,500). The White population also grew by 4% and the Black population declined by 9% over this time – with a 4% increase in the multiracial population.
Knoxville estimated measures of need and value are mixed regarding gains and declines from 2012 to 2017. Regarding measures of value, median gross rent and median home value have declined in the past 5-years (from $861 to $792 and from $46,635 to $44,300, respectively). Indicators of need such as those living below the FPL have decreased by 7% (down from 37%), single mothers with children has decreased by 14% (down from 37%), and those 25 and above with at least a bachelor’s degree or more have decreased by 4% (from 91% to 87%). However, while these declines in need may symbolize more significant change, they must be put in context. As of 2017 ACS estimates, and among all other Pittsburgh neighborhoods and neighborhood areas, Knoxville had the 8th highest rate of single mothers with children, the 7th highest rate of males who are unemployed or unattached from the labor force (when removing college student heavy neighborhoods from the rankings), the 12th highest rate of those 25 and up without a Bachelor’s degree or more, the 11th lowest median Black household income (when removing college student heavy neighborhoods from the rankings) and the 5th lowest median home value in all of Pittsburgh. And so, despite these declines in need, need levels are still quite high in both real terms and comparatively. These high measures of need come with a heavy cost on the community for such factors have contributed to the relatively high rate of gun violence found in durably poor neighborhoods like Knoxville.
In 2018 alone, 3 young men lost their lives to gun violence in Knoxville: James Loughlin (a 23-year-old white male), Tamon Hatchin (a 24-year-old Black Male) and Anthony Bullock-Fields (a 29-year-old Black male). And on Friday, February 8th 2019, a home invasion resulted in the hospitalization of a suspect and home resident due to gun fire exchange. And sadly, gun violence has been present in Knoxville for years. In 2014, 36-year-olds Jason Eubanks and Cheralynn Sabatasso were shot and killed. In 2015, 15-year-old Curtis pounds was a 9th grader at Carrick High School who was shot and killed. Curtis’s Aunt said that Pound’s father had been shot and killed 6 years ago and that her sister had also been murdered in 1993. In 2015, Police Officers shot and killed a fugitive charged with rape of a young child, assault and other crimes. According to police, the man had held what turned out to be an all-black air gun “in a manner consistent with what one would see when trained to use a handgun against officers.” In 2016, a 6-year-old Black girl named Isis Allen was tragically shot in the head by stray bullets in the summer of that year. 23-year-old Black female Shanique Sanders was shot down and found dead on McKinley Street in November of 2016. In March of 2017, a murder/suicide occurred when 46-year-old Christopher Dancy was shot and killed by 47-year-old Joseph Goldsmith before turning the gun on himself. A 9-month year old infant was injured from glass due to an exchange of fire between two men in April of 2017. In November 2017, 52-year-old Black woman Regina Beck Jordan was found shot in the head in her dining room on Rochelle Street and hospitalized. In July 2018, a man was shot at the intersection of Bausman and Brownsville Road and was taken to the hospital in stable condition. And in November of 2018, an 18-year-old man was taken to the hospital in critical condition after multiple wounds to the abdomen. This is not an exhaustive list, but a large snippet of gun violence that has occurred in Knoxville over the past few years. In being brutally honest, I cried when I read this list aloud to my younger brother – because so many of these young men and women were taken due to circumstance.
To be quite explicit, social science research shows that community level measures of concentrated poverty, percentage of men unemployed or unattached to the labor force, percentage of single mothers with children, drug trafficking and its connection to gun violence and other structural variables of disadvantage all have a hand in creating the conditions and opportunities for gun violence to disproportionately occur in high poverty areas like Knoxville. Meaning, gun violence is often a matter of economic circumstance and disadvantage, and is not some moral or cultural failing of the people who reside in durably poor communities. And often, it is carried out by a small percentage of the younger population who cause a disproportionate amount of the violent crime. And regarding the high degree of gun violence in majority Black neighborhoods (along with the fact that 69% of all victims of homicide in 2018 were Black – despite the fact that Black people make up only 13% of Allegheny County’s population), urban researchers argue that the high degree of gun violence in impoverished Black and mixed race communities is a matter of proximity and multigenerational exposure to highly disadvantaged neighborhoods. Meaning, because majority Black neighborhoods in Pittsburgh (and else where) tend to be so durably high poverty and segregated, young Black people are much more exposed and at risk to gun violence as compared to White people because of the neighborhoods and economic circumstances that they were born into. The exception of Knoxville is that it is a racially mixed neighborhood – albeit one that is still segregated. As such, both White and Black residents are exposed to both the economic and systemic conditions that cause the gun violence and the gun violence itself. Meaning, high gun violence is not an issue of race, but of the factors that create it – as described. However, the factors that create it have often been historically and systemically tied to areas of Black concentrated poverty.
The neighborhood conditions that tend to predict violence are the result of systemic and macroeconomic forces and self-reinforcing patterns of multigenerational exposure to concentrated poverty and disadvantage. Researchers Robert Sampson and Patrick Sharkey have analyzed and written on these topics extensively (see Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect and Stuck in Place). As discussed in a previous data brief, Black people are far more likely to reside in areas of concentrated poverty in Pittsburgh than White people are. As found in the analysis, an overwhelming 76% of majority Black neighborhoods are considered high or extreme poverty as of 2017 ACS estimates – compared to a mere 6% of majority White neighborhoods that are considered high or extreme poverty (with poverty rates exceeding 30% to 40% or more).
In one of the most cited papers of the past few decades regarding the structural causes of violent crime in racially and economically segregated neighborhoods, renowned researchers William Julius Wilson and Robert Sampson of Harvard argued that the rate of unemployed or unattached males to the labor force and concentrated poverty tend to disrupt families and affect the rate of single mother households with children. In turn, it has been found that high rates of single mothers with children is a leading predictor of violent crime – especially so among juveniles. More recent research from Sampson shows how higher rates of incarceration among Black men have also disrupted the family and led to an increase in single female houses with children. Regarding higher rates of incarceration, Sampson found that the rates of incarceration among Black men in Chicago neighborhoods for committing the same crimes as White men is a different of kind, not degree. While both researchers don’t ignore the fact that neighborhood culture may play some role in violence, they argue that cultural primers of violence are a response to the overwhelming disadvantage of many racially and economically segregated neighborhoods and the lack of living wage job opportunities for residents. Now, violent crime is complex, but my point is that structural variables at the neighborhood level tend to be quite predictive of crime. And as discussed, Knoxville has some of the highest rates of single mothers with children and men who are unemployed or unattached to the labor force in the City of Pittsburgh.
Knoxville, like many other durably poor neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, is a complicated place. While it is measurably disadvantaged as compared to low poverty neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, it is also home to residents who deeply care about their neighborhood and are doing their best to get by. And many are resilient, friendly, knowledgeable and charismatic – per my own personal experiences with family and friends in Knoxville and per my street by street walk of the neighborhood. Although not by design, Knoxville is one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the entire city, but it is still segregated when comparing the southern and northern sections of the neighborhood. Knoxville has access to transit via the 51, 44 and 54, but there is only one grocery store in the entire South Hilltop. Knoxville has sturdy, compact and wonderfully charming homes, but a high degree of vacancy and blight. Knoxville is the place where my mom and most of my mom’s side of the family grew up. And my grandma’s house holds a special place in my memory; whether the memory be of her neighborhood famous rigatonis or the times when my great-uncle would chase me around her house with a buzz cutter because my hair was “way too damn long.” I once received some sage advice from my Great Uncle Bill. Uncle Bill also resided with my grandma in the house with the Japanese Apple Tree out front and the dark green porch swing that my siblings and I would play on when we were younger. He told me that a boy who never ended up in the hospital from doing something reckless with his friends would never really have that great of a childhood (and my best friend and I took his advice a bit too seriously growing up).
Knoxville is home to beautiful vistas and a visibly tight social network but is plagued by community violence that is preventable. Knoxville is struggling, as are many of its most vulnerable residents, but its story doesn’t have to end that way – nor should it. While Knoxville is one of many high poverty neighborhoods that has not seen the benefit of Pittsburgh’s so-called renaissance and revitalization, there are strategies out there that aim to invest in the people of disadvantaged places and provide them with real opportunity. And there are already local non profits that deeply care about the social mobility and health of those residing in the Hilltop (such as the Brashear Association and the Hilltop Community Children’s Center). Pittsburgh’s economic growth alone will not solve the problems of durable poverty and cemented disadvantage in places like Knoxville. Intentional place-based and people centered policies, investments and strategies are needed to combat the barriers that residents have faced for generations.
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. The University of Pittsburgh Library System informed which census tracts comprised a given neighborhood in a given year. 2012 dollar amounts, incomes and values were adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index.
ACS estimates at the census tract level have sizeable margin or error and this may impact results.
Snippets of broader Pittsburgh history were not cited because they are common knowledge.
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 neighborhood of Manchester is located on the western portion of Pittsburgh’s lower Northside and is bordered to the south by Western Avenue, to the west by Chateau Street, to the East by Allegheny Avenue and to the North by the Norfolk Southern railroad. As of 2017 American Community Survey Estimates, Manchester had a population of 2,156 – up by 114 from 2012. The largely industrial and commercial neighborhood of Chateau lay to the west and south of Manchester while Marshall-Shadeland, California-Kirkbride, Allegheny West and Central Northside (better known as Mexican War Streets) are north, northeast, southeast and east of Manchester, respectively. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the neighborhood is home to the Manchester Historic District and is the largest historic preservation site in the City of Pittsburgh.
Manchester is located in Pittsburgh’s Northside region.
Historic Preservation plaques that describe architectural styles ranging from Victorian Eclectic to Second Empire dot houses throughout the neighborhood. And while the bulk of housing units are of the row home variety, mansions built when the neighborhood was still a part of Allegheny City – before its annexation by Pittsburgh in 1907 – reside on streets and avenues like Liverpool and W North. Crumbling and dilapidated houses litter the entire neighborhood, but their concentration appears to increase north of Liverpool Street and they comprise the majority of housing units towards the most northern tip of the neighborhood. But even in their decay, the houses are hauntingly beautiful and appear as resilient as the residents that were friendly enough to stop and talk to me on my street by street walk of their neighborhood. One Black woman was reserved and soft spoken, but told me that she was visiting her mother (who has lived in the neighborhood for most of her life). We spoke off Liverpool street. Her least favorite part of the neighborhood was the “issues with drugs,” but she loved the street festival that a local church puts on every summer.
The crumbling and graffitied former Manchester public swimming pool can be found in the most northeastern portion of the neighborhood in Manchester Park. And as a kid who once managed to get thousands of signatures in an attempt to stop the closure of so many of the city’s public pools in the early 2000s (to no avail), the sight of the old pool hit me hard with great waves of nostalgia and a longing for the days when my own closed pool at Brookline Memorial Park was still open. In Brookline the pool was repurposed into a turf hockey rink, but in Manchester it remains abandoned. A cement Dolphin still resides in the fenced off swimming pool and is a forgone image of a place that once gave joy to the Black bodied children of Manchester. And while the decay of the old swimming pool saddened me, there was so much to love about Manchester. Without a doubt, my favorite part of the neighborhood was a green through-way directly west of Manchester’s baseball field – which sits between the northern and southern sections of Fulton Street. From a lone picnic table beneath a well shaded tree, I could see part of Downtown’s Skyline and, with a turn of my head, I could look directly down Fulton and on towards the magnificent Original Church of God on Liverpool Street which was once a Roman Catholic Church; its steeple can be seen from various points throughout the neighborhood and acts as a sort of focal point.
While the neighborhood is almost entirely residential, several larger commercial businesses line Western Avenue and a few businesses and non-profits are concealed between homes in central areas of the neighborhood (including a graphic design company called Little Kelpie on Columbus Avenue, the Manchester Youth Development Center on Liverpool Street and the Northside Leadership Conference at Allegheny and Pennsylvania Avenues). The neighborhood is also home to a number of primary schools including Manchester Elementary, Manchester Prek-8, Manchester Academy Charter School and the historic building that houses the Conroy Education Center – along with several Christian Churches of various denominations. The neighborhood is flat, highly walkable and is easily accessible via several nearby port authority bus stops (with the 14 traveling along Manchester’s southern and western borders) and the Trolley’s Allegheny Station is a short walk down Allegheny Avenue from the southeastern tip of the neighborhood.
As of the latest 2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Manchester is a majority Black neighborhood (67% black) that went from high to moderate poverty from 1990 to 2012 (38% to 23%) and from moderate to low poverty from 2012 to 2017 (23% to 16%). In fact, Manchester has seen the second steepest decline in individuals living below the Federal Poverty Line from 1990 to 2017 among all Pittsburgh neighborhoods and neighborhoods areas – a decline in poverty of 22%. And regarding those neighborhoods with a simple racial majority (those with at least 51% of a population consisting of a given racial group), Manchester is one of only 3 majority Black neighborhoods that are considered lower poverty. Meaning, Manchester, the Upper Hill and East Liberty all have poverty rates between 10 and 19%. The other 14 majority Black neighborhoods are all high or extreme poverty – with the exception of Fineview on Pittsburgh’s Upper Northside which is considered moderate poverty. And besides the Upper Hill District, Manchester hosts the second highest median income for Black Households living in a majority Black neighborhood. Although, Manchester’s median household income for Black residents is still $26,000 less than the median household income for White residents (roughly $66,000 for White people and $40,000 for Black people).
And so, Manchester is unique for 3 reasons 1) Manchester is a majority Black neighborhood that isn’t high or extreme poverty – which is rare in Pittsburgh. 2) It has a Black household median income that is one of the highest for majority Black neighborhoods and is on the rise (roughly $32,000 in 2012 to $40,000 in 2017 or a 25 percent change increase). 3) And unlike most Pittsburgh neighborhoods that tend to remain durably low, moderate or high poverty over decades of time, Manchester is witnessing significant declines in poverty and other measures of disadvantage and is experiencing sizeable increases in housing value and income measures; and these changes are happening over a relatively short period of time. Durable concentrated poverty and the reality of residential segregation by race and income in Pittsburgh neighborhoods was the subject of a previous data brief.
Speaking to the 3rd point, and over a 5-year period from 2012 to 2017, the following measures of disadvantage have seen sizeable declines: individual poverty rate declined by 7.5%, poverty rate for Black residents declined by 6.3% (3 and half times the decline of White poverty over the same period), the rate of single mothers with children declined by 18%, the percentage of working age males declined by 25% and percentage of those 25 or older without a Bachelor’s degree or more declined by roughly 14%. As for median income, the median income rose from roughly $36,000 to $44,400 from 2012 to 2017. And as mentioned, Black household median income is on the rise – as is White household median income (up from roughly $51,000 in 2012 to $66,000 in 2017 or a percent change increase of 31%). Lastly, median gross rent and median home value have both seen sizeable increases – an increase of $111 for gross rent and a roughly $22,000 median home value increase (with an estimated median home value of $116,000 in 2017). Although, both median gross rent and median home value fell below citywide estimates for 2017.
While Manchester has been a majority Black neighborhood for some time, it has seen a 10% decline in the Black population from 2012 to 2017 and a 12% increase in the White population over the same period (18% in 2012 to 30% in 2017). Given these declines in need and increases in median income, rent and household value, along with the fact that the poverty rate for Black and White households is not drastically different as of 2017 estimates (13.4% for Whites and 16.6% for Blacks), it appears as though low-income Black residents are leaving the neighborhood. This may possibly be due to involuntarily displacement which could be the result of sizeable increases in rent and home value (with rent increases negatively affecting those low or fixed income households who don’t own a home or home value increases affecting low or fixed income homeowners who can’t keep up with property tax increases). Or, perhaps, higher income Black people are moving into the neighborhood which is driving down the Black poverty rate – although steep declines in the rate of single mothers and other measures of need/population may contradict this thought somewhat. And so, the decline in Black poverty could be due to out-migration and not an influx of higher income Black people, after all. Further analysis of the households who are leaving and staying is required to claim that involuntary displacement is occurring, however. And even if it has yet to occur, recent demographic changes and the influx of higher income White residents suggest that involuntary displacement due to spikes in rent and home value may be inevitable without putting the proper protections in place now.
Because of the rising median income among Black residents and the value of Manchester’s Black median income as compared to other majority Black neighborhoods, higher-income Black residents in Manchester could stand to benefit from such improvements in their neighborhood regarding historic protections, renovation and development. And one thing is clear, Manchester is changing on several measures. Though-out my walk, I saw several teams of contractors doing renovations on buildings in the neighborhood. And so, perhaps its closeness to the sports stadiums of the Northshore, the art exhibits of the Mexican War Streets (and Allegheny Center), its walkability, and its large historic preservation site are factors that are causing a surge in median gross rent and median home value.
On a final note, researcher Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted, has pointed to rising housing and utility costs, stagnant incomes and a decline in federal funding for affordable housing programs over the past few decades as the main contributors to the ongoing shortage of affordable housing (now known as the affordable housing crisis) and the City’s Affordable Housing Task Force reported that the city has a shortage of over 17,000 affordable housing units for households with incomes at or below 50% of Household Median Income as of 2016. As such, the affordable housing shortage affects high and low poverty neighborhoods alike. And Desmond has noted that eviction is common for low or fixed-income renters in high poverty neighborhoods that are not undergoing drastic change – especially so among Black single mother households. Meaning, growing eviction rates are not just a problem in the small number of Pittsburgh neighborhoods that are rapidly changing; they are also an issue in Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods.
However, without tools to slow down rising utility and housing costs, an increase in income for low and fixed-income households and an expansion of affordable housing supply, neighborhoods that are changing at a faster pace than others may put low or fixed-income renters at even greater risk for involuntary displacement than those living in durably high poverty areas. While most Pittsburgh neighborhoods have not drastically changed over the past 27 years regarding poverty rate, as discussed in a previous data brief, Manchester is undergoing change, and this may be good news for higher income residents who can weather that change. But the neighborhood should begin to concern itself with the subject of affordable housing development and protection – as to allow low-income Black residents to remain in the beautiful, accessible and walkable neighborhood. And perhaps, neighborhood groups and affordable housing advocates are already having discussions about this topic.
All neighborhood level statistics were gathered via census tract level data from the 2012 and 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. The University of Pittsburgh Library System informed which census tracts comprised a given neighborhood on a given year. 2012 dollar amounts, incomes and values were adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index.
ACS estimates at the census tract level have sizeable margin of error and this may impact results.
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.
Before we start taking an intimate look at each Pittsburgh neighborhood as this project evolves, I wanted to share some evidence regarding the other goal of this project as a whole; exploring the reality of lasting, cemented and durable concentrated poverty in Pittsburgh neighborhoods and the city’s high degree of residential segregation by race and income.
At a glance, the City of Pittsburgh is estimated to have a total population of about 302,414. Pittsburgh is a largely White city (65%) with the second largest racial group being Black people (22%). The other notable racial groups are Asian (6%) and Hispanic or Latino (roughly 3%) – with multiracial residents and very small numbers of other minority racial groups taking up the small remainder. When excluding neighborhoods in the East End that are in close proximity to the city’s universities (and have heavy concentrations of college students), Pittsburgh’s small and native Hispanic or Latino population is highly concentrated in neighborhoods like Mount Oliver Neighborhood, Crawford-Roberts, the Beltzhoover/Bon Air area and Mount Washington (in that order by percentage) and in Beechview, Greenfield, Brookline and Mount Washington (in that order by total number). Much like the Latino or Hispanic population, the Asian population is almost entirely concentrated in neighborhoods around Pittsburgh’s universities in the East End when those neighborhoods aren’t excluded – with the highest percentage concentrations in North Oakland, Shadyside, Friendship, Squirrel Hill South and Squirrel Hill North. As such, it is likely that Asian residents in these neighborhoods are largely students or graduate transplants – as is likely with the Latino or Hispanic population. The exception is a growing population of southeast Asian refugees and immigrants settling in neighborhoods like Carrick, Brookline, Banksville and the Ridgemont and Westwood area (in that order by total number) and in Banksville, the Ridgemont and Westwood area, Knoxville and the Strip District (in that order by percentage). Other than these minority racial variations, the city’s neighborhoods are largely dominated by White and Black hues. While about 1 and 5 Pittsburghers fell below the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) in 2017, roughly 13% of White individuals in Pittsburgh did and 35% of Black Pittsburghers did – despite the fact that Black people makeup only 22% of the overall population (American Community Survey or ACS 1-Year Estimates for the year 2017).
Nearly mirroring city-wide racial demographics, 68% of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods and neighborhood areas are majority White and 23% are majority Black – with a total of 17 majority Black neighborhoods and a total of 50 majority White neighborhoods and neighborhood areas. Populations that are either 51% Black or White at the neighborhood level constitute a simple racial majority in this analysis. The remaining neighborhoods and neighborhood areas are racially mixed neighborhoods with no clear majority (9% of neighborhoods and only 7 total). As such, truly racially mixed neighborhoods are rare in Pittsburgh. And as will be discussed in future neighborhood profiles, there is little evidence that these racially mixed neighborhoods with no clear simple racial majority were integrated by intentional design. The high poverty Knoxville is one such racially mixed neighborhood with a Black population of 46% and a White population of 40% – with the remainder composed of mixed races and other minority racial groups. The collapse of the Steel Industry, relatively cheap rental units, and the displacement of Black families from the St. Clair Village Public Housing project in the 2000s may account for such a mixing in neighborhoods such as Knoxville. Those residents with means to do so often chose to leave the Knoxville neighborhood as it began to decline, according to some residents I spoke with. There’s a saying that Steelers’ fans “travel well” – given their spread throughout the U.S. However, after the collapse of the steel mills and the effect such a collapse had on the entire regional economy, many of these Steelers’ fans left for economic opportunity else where. Much like racial separation, Pittsburgh neighborhoods are highly divided by the percent of their respective populations below the Federal Poverty Line. 24% of Pittsburgh neighborhoods are high or extreme poverty, 22% are moderate poverty and the remainder are low or very low poverty (54%). And all too often, racial and economic segregation are not mutually exclusive in Pittsburgh neighborhoods. In fact, they are overwhelmingly tied together (ACS 5-Year Estimates for the year 2017).
Even though Black people make up only 22% of Pittsburgh’s population, an overwhelming 76% of majority Black neighborhoods are high or extreme poverty – with high poverty defined as neighborhoods with overall poverty rates ranging from 30% to 39% and extreme poverty defined as those with at least 40% or more. And often, poverty percentages in majority Black neighborhoods considered high or extreme were far above these research-defined thresholds – with a range of 30% to 74% of individuals living below the FPL. Six percent of majority Black neighborhoods are moderate poverty and the remaining majority Black neighborhoods are low poverty (18%). As in, only 3 majority Black neighborhoods are considered low poverty: East Liberty, Manchester and the Upper Hill – which all had poverty rates between 10% and 19%. Virtually no majority Black neighborhoods are considered very low poverty – defined as those neighborhoods with poverty rates less than 10%. On the other side of the racial spectrum, White neighborhoods fair very differently regarding poverty makeup. Only 6% of majority White Neighborhoods are high poverty and none are considered extreme poverty. As such, there were only 3 high poverty areas that were majority White: the Bluff, the neighborhood area of Hays, Hazelwood and Glen Hazel – which all share a census tract(s) as of the 2010 census – and the upper Northside hilltop neighborhood of Spring Hill-City View. 26% of majority White neighborhoods were considered moderate poverty with poverty rates between 20% and 29% and the overwhelming remainder were either low or very low poverty (68%) (ACS 5-Year Estimates for the year 2017).
As presented, race and class are often closely tied together at the neighborhood level in Pittsburgh. And this phenomenon is true of cities across the nation (see researcher Robert Samson’s Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect). However, Pittsburgh’s unique topographical features, its “bus in-to-town and bus out-of-town” port authority system and its highway and busway structures make said divide even more pronounced and isolating. Of those extreme poverty neighborhoods, 0% were white and 88% were black. The only neighborhood area that was also extreme poverty and not majority Black was the racially mixed Terrace Village and West Oakland area – with each neighborhood sharing a census tract as of the most recent census. However, the bulk of the neighborhood area’s poverty comes from the largely Black Terrace Village. And so, if this neighborhood area is removed from the mix, 100% of extreme poverty neighborhoods are majority Black.
Northview Heights is a strong example of a neighborhood that is geographically isolated with limited port authority access – as compared to many neighborhoods in the city’s East End – and has a staggering 74% poverty rate. The population is not just majority Black, but overwhelmingly black (91%). And only 2% of its population is White. In fact, 54% of majority White neighborhoods are overwhelmingly White – as are 53% of black ones; meaning that in these cases at least 75% of a neighborhood’s population is a given racial group rather than just a simple racial majority of 51%. Of those neighborhoods considered high poverty, 30% are White and 60% are Black – with the remaining percentage coming from the racially mixed Knoxville. As such, only a small portion of White residents live in high or extreme poverty neighborhoods. Such White residents exist along with smaller makeups of racially mixed residents and Asian and Latino refugees and immigrants. However, the majority of White neighborhoods are low or very low poverty. The subject of White versus Black poverty for a given neighborhood or neighborhood area will be a feature of the neighborhood profiles.
Lastly, neighborhood poverty level does not tend to change over time for the majority of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. As can be seen in the figure below, there is a strong linear relationship between neighborhood poverty rate in 1990 and neighborhood poverty rate in 2017 (R=.82 with alpha set at less than .01). And neighborhood poverty rate in 1990 explains 67% of the variance around the mean regarding neighborhood poverty rate in 2017. To get around the science speak, this means that despite broad macro-economic changes at the national level and economic changes and growth at the city level over a period of 27 years, low poverty neighborhoods tend to remain low poverty, moderate poverty neighborhoods tend to remain moderate or get poorer and high poverty neighborhoods tend to remain high poverty or get poorer.
There are a few neighborhoods that have seen steep declines in poverty rate from 1990 to 2017, but most neighborhoods have remained stable. Neighborhood areas like Arlington and Arlington Heights (a 19% decline) and neighborhoods like Terrace Village (a 13% decline) most likely saw steep declines because of the removal of a substantial portion of public housing by the city from the 1990s and on through the 2000s. St. Clair Village is one example of a neighborhood that was once a public housing project and is now being developed as an Urban Farm; it was no longer assigned its own census tract due to having little to no population as of more recent ACS surveys. Neighborhoods like Manchester (22% decline), the East Allegheny and North Shore area (12% decline) and the Strip District (12% decline) may have seen steep declines due to intentional public and private investment and development – along with historic preservation efforts and an influx of higher income residents. Neighborhoods with a large share of low-income renters and limited affordable housing supply are often the most at risk regarding involuntary displacement due to intentional investment and the subsequent residential demand (and rise in rents), but most poor neighborhoods have not been the target of such investment. And often, low and fixed-income tenants face the possibility of eviction no matter where they live. Meaning, involuntary displacement is not just a possible consequence of neighborhood change and revitalization, but rather a reality for most low or fixed-income residents in even Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods; neighborhoods that haven’t substantially changed for decades.
As will be discussed in future posts, such a degree of racial separation is not merely due to self-preference or selection alone. Instead, and broadly speaking, such division exists because of historical and present discrimination in housing and lending markets, urban renewal, major changes in the labor market from the 1980s onward and subsequent economic restructuring and major demographic changes and out-migration from the 1950s to the 1980s (see researcher William Julius Wilson’s the Truly Disadvantaged, Rothstein’s the Color of Law and a Coates’ the Case for Reparations to get a detailed account of these processes). And as will also be discussed in future posts, research shows that childhood development in high poverty areas is tied to a number of negative outcomes in adulthood and is strongly tied to generational poverty. And experimental research show that low-income children who primarily grow up in low poverty neighborhoods before the age of 12 have positive outcomes as compared to their peers who remain in high poverty ones (see researcher Raj Chetty’s work with the Moving to Opportunity experiment). Patrick Sharkey’s Stuck in Place also explores the effect of cumulative concentrated disadvantage on childhood development and respective adult outcomes over multiple generations (and Vox did a great write-up of Sharkey’s research here). And so, neighborhoods tend to stay the same without intentional intervention. Neighborhoods effect and shape our lives, behaviors and opportunities in a significant way. As such, it is quite troubling that such a large portion of Pittsburgh’s Black population is often living in isolated areas of lasting concentrated poverty and disadvantage. This fact will become more evident as the project continues on with resident interviews and Neighborhood Profiles.
The analysis of Pittsburgh neighborhoods and neighborhood areas used American Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year Estimates for the year 2017 – as collected from the U.S Census. 2017 estimates are the most recent year regarding published data from the ACS. Citywide data came from 2017 ACS 1-year estimates. Because the census tracts that makeup Pittsburgh neighborhoods have changed over time the University of Pittsburgh Library System was referenced to inform which census tracts comprised a given neighborhood in both 1990 and 2017. As of the 2010 census, a number of neighborhoods shared the same census tract. In these cases, neighborhoods were combined. Neighborhoods that were combined with another neighborhood were referred to as neighborhood areas. Any time that a neighborhood was comprised of more than one census tract or was combined due to sharing a census tract(s) with another neighborhood a weighted average was used to construct neighborhoods. Weights were based on census tract population proportions.
Regarding the total population of neighborhoods and neighborhood areas used, the Chateau, St. Clair and South Shore neighborhoods were not included in the analysis because they had populations of less than 100. Neighborhoods with student heavy residential populations and neighborhoods that contained a 4-year university were included but their poverty rates were adjusted by using estimates for those ages 25 and up who were below the FPL – as to control for student heavy populations. Because the average college student is unemployed or working a minimum wage job, student heavy centers dramatically skew the real poverty rate. This is not to say that the analysis ignores the reality of low-income college students. Rather, neighborhood poverty rates were adjusted because of the difficulty in accessing the true poverty rate. In total, 74 neighborhoods and neighborhood areas (those neighborhoods that share a census tract(s) with another neighborhood) were used in the analysis. For the durability of poverty analysis from 1990 to 2017 data from the National Historic Geographic Systems was utilized to collect census level poverty estimates for the year 1990. Poverty rates were not adjusted to control for student populations in the durability of poverty regression analysis because the purpose of the analysis was to show how little poverty rate changes over time in most Pittsburgh neighborhoods; and student inflated poverty rates in 1990 are very much comparable to student inflated poverty rates in 2017.
As should be noted, ACS estimates are notorious for wide margins or error (MOE) due to smaller than optimal sample sizes. As such, MOE may impact results. That being said, the degree to which Pittsburgh neighborhoods are segregated by race and income appears to have an impact on the accuracy of estimates – despite high MOE. Meaning, because neighborhoods are often so overwhelmingly comprised of residents with similar socio-economic and racial demographics, smaller sample sizes are often more representative than they should be. As such, ACS estimates should not be disregarded because of high MOE. Rather, they should be taken with a grain of salt and checked against the working knowledge of those with professional and personal experience in a given neighborhood.
And on this note, while durability of poverty tends to be the trend in Pittsburgh neighborhoods, there are several neighborhoods that have been emerging at a steep pace regarding housing demand and subsequent rental prices. As such, 2017 estimates may not accurately portray current racial and poverty measures for the year 2019 in neighborhoods like Lower and Central Lawrenceville, East Liberty and the western portion of East Allegheny (commonly known as Deutschtown). Fixed-income and low-income renters, and even low-income home owners, are at risk of involuntary displacement without affordable housing and property tax protections, respectively.
I’d be happy to send info on which data tables I used from the census for those interested. Thanks for reading and please feel free to share or use the data as long as you cite this page as the source.
My fascination with this city and its 90 unique neighborhoods came as a result of both my growing up here and having a dad who has an intimate knowledge of the city’s landscape through his work as a residential electrician from the 1970’s onward. Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are often easy to identify because many of them are shaped by the city’s diverse topographical and geographical features, include houses with distinctive architectural styles and promote a place-based sense of community that is on display via neighborhood institutions, parks, local business district corridors and ethnic pride. But, while these features often portray certain neighborhoods in a positive light, Pittsburgh’s topography and its high degree of economic and racial segregation by neighborhood can also serve to reinforce the existing divides between those neighborhoods entrenched by lasting and concentrated poverty and disadvantage and those neighborhoods that are well-known, well-off, accessible and are recipients of ongoing public and private investment.
This divide became apparent to me as I got older. While I originally lived in a small rental apartment with my older sister and parents on the border of Knoxville on Brownsville Road in Carrick, we moved back and forth between rentals in Brookline and Carrick until my parents were able to buy their first and only home on Rossmore Avenue in Brookline when I was roughly 8 years old. While my dad once lived in a large and beautiful home on Tennyson Avenue in North Oakland and had grown up upper middle class, a number of intense family complications and a desire to pursue the trades led him to a working class existence about a decade before he met my mother. My mom had grown up in a low-income home with its own kind of beauty on Rochelle street in Knoxville. But as the steel mills shuttered their doors to financial supporters like her uncle Bill, Knoxville began to steadily decline and spike in poverty from roughly the 1970s onward.
As the persistence of neighborhood poverty and its effects on childhood development became clear to me, so too did the educational, occupational and income outcomes of some of my own extended family who remained in poor hilltop neighborhoods like Knoxville as compared to the outcomes of my siblings and me on those same measures. While we did grow up in a complicated, low-income home in Brookline, unlike Knoxville, Brookline was absent the level of gun violence steadily increasing in Knoxville, stable, overwhelmingly comprised of working class and middle class families (with access to formal and informal networks and opportunities) and was a neighborhood that offered a myriad of economically accessible enrichment activities for my siblings and I to participate in. And we are also white; a fact that doesn’t deny the obstacles my siblings and I faced growing up, but one that undoubtedly helped us get to where we are today. As such, and as backed by place-based research across the nation, my own experience in Brookline contributed to the narrative that the neighborhoods in which we and our parents grow up tend to predict a number of socio-economic, health-based and educational outcomes. Neighborhoods are by no means the whole story regarding the puzzle of social mobility, but they are a big part of it – given that they shape so many of our educational, social and job networks and opportunities.
This page will explore a few things. First, I want this page to be an intimate and accessible snap shot of all 90 Pittsburgh neighborhoods and my ultimate goal is to walk every single street in the City of Pittsburgh by neighborhood. Each neighborhood explored will receive a Neighborhood Profile which will include a brief historical write-up, past and recent neighborhood level statistics, promote unique institutions and businesses in the area and will include photos from my walks. Resident interviews will supplement Neighborhood Profiles and will be posted separately. Second, from time to time, I will tie these neighborhood level explorations and statistics into something more cohesive and meaningful via analysis and extrapolation. These posts will be known as Data Briefs. Truly, this page will be an exploration of not only the neighborhoods here in Pittsburgh and their given unique beauty, but will also serve to tell the tale of lasting residential segregation by race and income and the past and present factors that contribute to this ongoing segregation.
Lastly, I want this page to challenge what we think we know about certain neighborhoods in Pittsburgh and the residents who reside there. And my hope is that you all will be inspired to visit and support these neighborhoods, their residents and their institutions as you become more familiar with them. Pittsburgh is a city that I am proud to call home. But like all cities, its most vulnerable residents face steep challenges. This project aims to explore both the positive and negative aspects of this great city.
*Regarding my credentials*, I’m an urban poverty, urban sociology, neighborhood effects, developmental and behavioral psychology and housing policy nerd. Meaning, I read research for fun because I have no life. I currently work for the local government and conduct analyses and research related to housing and homelessness programs and affordable housing policy. My past work experience includes poverty and housing research for other local government entities and institutions, capacity building as an AmeriCorps VISTA for a local afterschool program in Homewood and the Upper Hill and I was a case worker for several years. Most importantly, I know the experience of poverty first hand and this has greatly informed and shaped the direction of my life and my interests. My siblings and I experienced a number of other “complications” growing up, but this isn’t the appropriate space to discuss such things. Just know that these complicated experiences have also shaped my view of neighborhoods, the family unit, peer effects and schools and how they all come together to shape a great deal of our lives and adult outcomes.
But*, there’s also a lot I don’t know because I haven’t experienced it. And that’s why resident interviews and walking each neighborhood will be so vital in informing this project – as opposed to just relying on data analysis alone. I firmly believe that we need to “get in it” to try to understand something to the extent we possibly can. Lastly, I was beyond lucky enough to receive my Master of Science in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon and my undergrad degree is in Research Psychology with a minor in Philosophy from Wheeling Jesuit University. I’ve had a ton of support to get where I am today and my own privileges and advantages have helped me get here. All these factors will inform this project.
*The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone and may not represent those of my former or current employers.*