Neighborhood Profiles: Sheraden and Esplen

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.

Sheriden and Esplen

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.

William Sheraden’s former homestead on Bergman street. Two sycamore trees join to form an archway over the entrance to the home. 

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.

The former Langley High School which is now Langley K-8. The high school stopped operating during the 2012-2013 school year. Architecturally, the building is in the style of Tudor Revival.
The Sheraden Shoppe n’ Kitchen off of Chartiers Avenue. There aren’t many active businesses in the neighborhood. 

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).

Attached brick homes line the streets of Sheraden. 

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.

Black children help their mom out around the yard. There were children playing on nearly every street that I walked in the north eastern section of the neighborhood (directly east of Sheraden park).
The south eastern section of the neighborhood felt suburban in design. Taken at a side street off Mutual Street.

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.

View atop the city steps that connect lower and upper Glasgow street. McKees Rocks is visible in the distance beyond Chartiers Creek.
Brick street east of Sheraden Park.

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.

Sheraden Public Swimming Pool located off of Adon Street in Sheraden Park.
Sheraden Skate Park 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.”

Ben has lived in Sheraden for the past 11 years. A retired maintenance worker, he likes his proximity to the local library and park, and the quiet sanctuary that is his corner of Ashlyn street .
Blighted building and the closed Holy Innocents Catholic Church at the corner of Ashlyn and Sherwood. 

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.

One of many blighted properties that I witnessed on my walk. This property is off Brunot Avenue in the eastern most section of Sheraden (Esplen is down below the cliffside).

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).

Race dura
Analysis includes 74 neighborhoods and neighborhood areas in the City of Pittsburgh. While St. Clair is mentioned above, it was not included in the analysis because of having a population < 100 as of the past few years. Likewise, Chateau and South Shore were excluded for having populations < 100. 

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.

Data Snap
Table assembled via 2012 and 2017 5-year estimates from the American Community Survey. Census tract level estimates have sizable margin of error and this may impact results. Crime data pulled from Allegheny County analytics. The Sheraden and Esplen neighborhood area is comprised of 2 census tracts that were combined using a weighted average based on population proportions. 

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.

The former Holy Innocents Catholic Church. Like many other Catholic churches in Pittsburgh, the church has been closed for some time, along with the school of the same name. Our family friend Ron detailed the history behind the church and the memories he had here and elsewhere in Sheraden. 

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.

Methodology Notes

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.*

Neighborhood Profile: California-Kirkbride

Located just northeast of Manchester, California-Kirkbride is a majority Black and extreme poverty neighborhood that is bridged between the City’s lower and upper Northside. As such, California-Kirkbride is split between a southern section which is topographically flat, filled with vacant lots and is home to historic row homes and a northern section that sits directly south of the architecturally beautiful and distinct Oliver Citywide Academy, a sparse collection of homes and the breathtaking Union Dale Cemetery; the two sections are connected via Pittsburgh city steps and the neighborhood’s eastern border of Brighton Road.

A pair of city steps connect the southern section of the neighborhood to the northern section. The steps sit off Morrison Street and connect up to Sunday Street.

California-Kirkbride is bordered to the north by Marshall Shadeland, to the west by Manchester, to the East by Perry South and to the south by Central Northside, which is more commonly known as the Mexican War Streets. Allegheny Avenue and California Avenue are adjacent to the Norfolk Southern Railroad and comprise the western border; Island Avenue and a section of Marshall Avenue makeup the northern border; and Brighton Road and Pennsylvania Avenue constitute the eastern and southern border, respectively. The community is accessible via the 13, 16 and 17 but is somewhat cutoff from the rest of the lower Northside. Formerly an industrial rail yard, the U.S Postal Service now houses a sorting center that takes up a significant amount of land in the most southwestern part of the neighborhood. Other industrial sites exist off of California Avenue and in the northern section of the neighborhood off of Sunday Street.


California-Kirkbride (or Cal-Bride) is located on Pittsburgh’s Northside region. 

Neighborhoods like Northside’s California-Kirkbride are a microcosm of the decline, disinvestment and extreme poverty and inopportunity that many Black Pittsburghers face. While much attention has been given to Pittsburgh’s revitalization, that revitalization has not taken place in most of Pittsburgh’s poorest and Blackest neighborhoods, and the living wage opportunities that stem from economic growth often remain out of reach for Pittsburghers of all races without a college degree. While the northern part of the neighborhood is quiet and tucked away, the southern section is largely green and emptied – with the effects of its overwhelming poverty and abandonment evident. But neighborhood groups like the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing aim to revitalize the neighborhood in an equitable manner and helped give life to a colorful play space surrounded by public murals off California Avenue. Likewise, Project Destiny sits off the neighborhood’s western border and offers programs to engage inner city youth. Project Destiny runs an afterschool program, mentoring networks and offers a 6-week summer camp program, and is partnered with the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. Lastly, Northside Common Ministries is located in the south-eastern section of the neighborhood and offers employment services, a homeless shelter, a food pantry and other services to disadvantaged populations of the Northside and beyond.

The southern section of the neighborhood conveys a visual sense of emptiness and abandonment. A considerable number of lots are now green and unoccupied and reveal just how dense this neighborhood once was by both population and housing stock.
A playground that was constructed with the aid of Kaboom!, the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing and others. It sits in the southern section of the neighborhood off of California Avenue. A unique mural overlooks the play space.

As workers of the former rail yard, slaughterhouses and other local industries increased residential demand during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the neighborhood became densely populated with industrial style row homes. But California-Kirkbride shares a similar history with many of Pittsburgh’s other poorest neighborhoods. Increasing suburbanization and White flight emptied out neighborhoods following World War II and the collapse of the region’s Steel Industry delivered a punishing blow to neighborhoods already struggling with poverty. Additionally, the practice of redlining and other discriminatory housing and lending policies served to concentrate Black people in the poorest neighborhoods and was legal until the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. While Pittsburgh passed an anti discrimination law regarding the rental, purchase, sale or financing of residential housing 10 years prior to the passage of the federal law, neither law has had a significant impact on changing patterns of economic and racial segregation overtime. As can be seen in the graph below, researcher Patrick Sharkey found that the number of Black versus White children living in high or moderate poverty neighborhoods remained nearly unchanged both before and long after the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.[1] As those who sought new opportunity went elsewhere and/or others left for racially motivated reasons, local businesses collapsed, religious and social institutions slowly closed their doors (as membership declined), and those that remained did so in a still depopulating neighborhood and city without the tax base to properly address such cemented issues of poverty and disadvantage.

Sharkey defined high poverty neighborhoods as those with 30% poverty or more and moderate poverty neighborhoods as those with rates between 20 and 29%. The 1968 Fair Housing Law was past in 1968, but a number of factors ranging from deindustrialization to implicit and explicit means of continued discrimination and exclusion kept the law from achieving the intended effect of changing such segregated residential patterns.

I did my street by street walk of the neighborhood on a fifty something degree day in late March. While I’ve been though California-Kirkbride on a number of occasions over the years, I had never explored the neighborhood in such an intimate way. Most notably, the southern part of California-Kirkbride feels empty and there are few Pittsburgh neighborhoods that convey such a sense of vacancy and abandonment. Boarded up businesses and vacant lots give a sense of what the neighborhood used to be like. However, there were a handful of homes that appeared to be undergoing renovations, especially so in the more historic sections of the neighborhood. These sections were composed of large, unique and sturdy brick row homes. Pella, a door and window replacement company, had their stickers on a number of these row homes which suggest that some investment is returning to the neighborhood. Colorful murals were scattered throughout the southern part of the neighborhood and portrayed Black portraits of children, workers, past community members and a bride walking through a door. As I walked past historic row homes and dilapidated housing, Black bodied children were laughing and returning from school, a handful of residents were walking through the neighborhood, and a few women did gardening work in their backyards.

Historic row homes off Brighton Place. The neighborhood was once an alienated, unpopulated corner of the former Allegheny City. But industry brought workers and housing to the neighborhood. However, today, the neighborhood is depopulating and again feels alienated from other more prominent neighborhoods in the lower Northside.
Mural with complementary color tones in the southern section of the neighborhood.

As I walked northward up the city steps off Morrison Street, I immediately noticed that the housing was not subject to the sort of emptiness present in the southern section. This part of the neighborhood was quiet and tucked away; something that a young Black resident really enjoyed about the neighborhood, as said to me. Her name is Britney and she has lived in the area for about 13 years. I spoke with her off Island Avenue and Winifred Street. Britney is quiet, shy and reserved and said that the peaceful calm of this part of the neighborhood is only sometimes interrupted by children and teens at Oliver Citywide Academy. Oliver is a school that is composed entirely of special needs children and teens throughout the city and was once the former Oliver Highschool. The sounds of teens were evidenced by the track meet that was about to start in the athletic field just north of the neighborhood in Marshall-Shadeland. Because of her shyness and avoidance of social media, something I should aspire to, she did not wish to have her picture taken. Britney mentioned that she liked how her close her neighborhood was to her school. Although, she wished that there were more to do in California-Kirkbride; the community does not have its own commercial corridor and is almost entirely residential, except for the swaths of land owned by nonprofits and industry. She attends the Community College of Allegheny County’s Northside campus and stated that she has to go to the Mexican War Streets or the businesses off Western Avenue in Allegheny West to, “Have something to do.” However, the shops are not too far by foot and are very accessible by bus.

Single family homes in the northern section of the neighborhood.

The northern part of the neighborhood was serene and home to another playground. However, the playground looked quite old and had features reminiscent of the original play equipment that was housed in Moore Park and Brookline Memorial Park in Brookline during the 90s. But Brookline’s equipment had been replaced when I was still a child and has received additions since then; California-Kirkbride’s playground has not. Surrounded by Oliver Citywide Academy, Highwood Cemetery in Marshall-Shadeland and Union Dale cemetery, the most north-eastern section of the neighborhood is breathtaking. Old tombstones from the 1800s, large green spaces and ancient trees collide with the brick of old row homes and single family homes, and the sound of bouncing basketballs echoed throughout the landscape as a few Black children shot hoops off of one of the compact streets. As is the same with many other Northside neighborhoods, the steeper parts of the California-Kirkbride give way to wide vistas that show the Northside down below and Downtown in the distance. Much like the rest of Pittsburgh, the neighborhood showcased both what had changed during the period of Pittsburgh’s deindustrialization and what has remained largely the same since.

Old playground off of Success and Winifred Streets. Old row homes line the northern section of the play space.
The tree-lined Brighton road. Oliver Citywide Academy is located in the most southern part of Marshall-Shadeland but the section of Union Dale Cemetery located in California-Kirkbride is visible in the distance.
The entrance to the beautiful Union Dale cemetery in the northern part of the neighborhood. Downtown, the West End and Duquesne heights and Mount Washington are visible from the most southern part of the cemetery.  

From 1960 to 2017 the neighborhood changed from 3% Black to 73% Black and the population dropped from 4,235 to an estimated 717, according to census data. From 1990 to 2017 the poverty rate remained within the extreme poverty designation (with levels upwards of 40%) and rose from 42% to 49%. In fact, California-Kirkbride is one of only 8 Pittsburgh neighborhoods that have poverty rates of 40% or more as of 2017 ACS estimates; all but one of which hold a Black simple racial majority. When adjusting for college heavy neighborhoods, California-Kirkbride is the 4th poorest community in the entire city after Northview Heights, Bedford Dwellings and Homewood North and is the least populated city of Pittsburgh neighborhood (outside of commercially dominated neighborhoods like Chateau and the South Shore). Like many other high poverty, majority Black neighborhoods, the area suffers from a high male unemployment rate (33%) and has the 8th lowest median income in the city ($20,268), when adjusting this measure in college heavy neighborhoods. From 2012 to 2017 the median gross rent and the median home value saw significant declines (from $750 to $516 and from $81,292 to $54,700, respectively), along with a substantial population decline composed of mainly black residents (a 7% decline). As of 2017, the community had the 8th lowest median rent in the City. Unlike those few neighborhoods that are rapidly changing in the direction of increased rent, investment and residential demand, California-Kirkbride is declining in value, has gotten poorer and continues to lose a significant portion of its population.

Regarding other measures of need from 2012-2017, those 25 and up without a bachelor’s degree decreased by 6% (89% to 83%), male unemployment decreased by a sizeable 19% (52% to 33%), the White poverty rate rose by 12% (17% to 29%) and the Black poverty rate decreased by 12% (64% to 52%). However, the steepest decline in need was rate of single mothers with children which decreased by an incredible 51% (57% to 6%). While ACS data is known to have sizeable margin of error, this kind of steep decline may not be due to that error alone. Something else significant may be at play due to such a steep decline over such a short period of time. Regarding income, median income rose $12,158 to $20,268. While the White median income declined by an incredible $45,945 (roughly $61,000 to $16,000), the Black median income rose from $10,280 to $23,750. Very few White residents were estimated to leave over this time (just 13) but over 300 Black residents left over the 5-year period. Perhaps those few White residents who left had significant incomes, which led to such a decrease; but that is just speculation. And perhaps the most disadvantaged Black residents are leaving the neighborhood. One thing is clear, while issues of affordable housing are an issue in high and low poverty areas alike, the rent and home value are declining at a high rate in California-Kirkbride, not increasing. Such a steep drop and raise in indicators of need and value by race are more than likely tied to the continuing and significant depopulation of the neighborhood. But other factors may be at play as well.

Vacant lots and row homes off B Street in the southern part of the neighborhood.
Dilapidated house in the southern section of the neighborhood.

Despite it’s incredibly high poverty and male unemployment rates, the neighborhood experienced minimal gun related violence as compared to other high poverty Pittsburgh neighborhoods over the last decade. As with the Knoxville and Garfield neighborhood profiles, concentrated poverty, prolonged inopportunity and unemployment and high rates of single mother families tend to have strong relationships with violent gun related crime, as discussed in those profiles. And the fatal and non fatal gun violence and shootings in Knoxville and Garfield are considerably high. However, California-Kirkbride is fairly safe, which affirms that these aforementioned measures alone are not the only predictors of comparatively high rates of gun violence. By all measures, gun related violence is lower in most U.S cities than it has been in decades, with the exception of spikes in crime in the past few years. In fact, 2014 was one of the safest years in American history according to researcher Patrick Sharkey. But as discussed in his new book, violent gun related crime is still comparatively higher in high poverty neighborhoods than low poverty neighborhoods, and is often carried out by a small number of individuals in micro areas of a given neighborhood. The emergence of crack cocaine in the 1980s hit poor neighborhoods hard and led to an explosion in drug and gang related gun violence. But not all poor neighborhoods were hit by these same forces. And crack’s hold has since declined in many of the nation’s high poverty areas. Comparatively, many poor urban neighborhoods are far less violent than they were during the peak of violent crime in the early 1990s. But again, many are still much more challenged by community violence than low poverty neighborhoods. [2] While such a low and steadily declining population may be a factor in the neighborhood’s low rates of crime, other factors may be at work, although it is unclear what they are. Age is often a factor regarding the likelihood to commit crime with crime significantly tapering off after 30. But 47% of the neighborhood is below the age of 30 and only 10% is above 65, according to 2017 ACS estimates. Whatever the reasons may be, California-Kirkbride is a much safer neighborhood for residents when compared to other high poverty neighborhoods profiled so far, as can be seen via Allegheny Analytics.

California Kirkbride is a neighborhood that faces steep challenges and embodies the growing divide between durably affluent and durably high poverty neighborhoods in American cities.[3] Even within the neighborhood, inequality is found. As of 2017, 52% of the Black population lived below the Federal Poverty Line as compared to 29% of the White population and this trend holds for most of the city. In fact, an analysis shows that while only 14% of poor White people in the City of Pittsburgh live in high poverty neighborhoods, a staggering 59% of poor Black people do.[4] Given the breadth and depth of sociological, economic and human developmental research that show the causal link between childhood development in high poverty neighborhoods and negative long-term socio-economic and health based adult outcomes, such a measure is alarming. Researcher Patrick Sharkey has shown the causal effect between childhood development in high poverty areas and generational poverty and impaired cognitive development,[5] and researcher Raj Chetty has reexamined data from the federally funded Moving to Opportunity experiment to show that a childhood move from a high to low poverty area has a significant positive effect on adult earnings.

Analysis used 2017 ACS 5-year estimates. The total percentage of poor whites versus poor blacks living in neighborhoods with 30% poverty or more was calculated. As can be seen, lack of income may only explain a portion of why this pattern exists. Other factors must be at play to cause such a sharp divide between where poor black versus poor white residents primarily live.

There are several neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that are experiencing rising rents and affordable housing and wage policies must be enacted to ensure that long-term residents can benefit from investment, improved access and opportunity. However, the main challenges that poor and Black neighborhoods like California-Kirkbride face is concentrated poverty, its effects on childhood development and the harsh reality of extreme racial segregation. While vulnerable residents of Lower and Central Lawrenceville, East Liberty and Manchester have to deal with the reality of rising rents that result from increased public and private investment and residential demand, California-Kirkbride and a significant majority of other high poverty neighborhoods must deal with depopulation, disinvestment and neglect. The history of Pittsburgh neighborhoods over the past 3 decades is not often change, despite the attention some neighborhoods undergoing change get. Our focus must also shift to the large number of neighborhoods that have simply been left behind.

The historic California-Kirkbride.

Methodology Notes

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. 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.

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.*

[1]Sharkey, P. (2013). Stuck in Place (p. 27). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.[2] Sharkey, P. (2019). Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, The Renewal of City life and The Next War on Violence. New York City, NY: W.W Norton and Company, Inc.        [3] Sharkey, P. (2019) (p. 99)
[4] Analysis used 2017-ACS 5-year estimates. The total percentage of poor whites versus poor blacks living in neighborhoods with 30% poverty or more was calculated.
[45 Sharkey, P. (2019) (pp. 83-86)

Neighborhood Profile: Manchester

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.

mansion manchester
Mansion located in the southwestern portion of Manchester.
vacant manchester
Dilapidated building in northern section of Manchester.

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.

pool in Manchester
Abandoned and graffitied Manchester Swimming Pool located in the most northeastern section of the neighborhood.
bench at Manchester
Green through-way located west of Manchester Ball Field – which sits between the northern and southern sections of Fulton Street. Steeple of Original Church of God in the distance.

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.

Manchester Photo
The Original Church of God on the Historic Liverpool Street.

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.

manchester row home
Historic row home built in the architectural style of Queen Anne in 1889. Located in the central part of Manchester.

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.

street manchester
Tree lined streets lean away from historic row homes in Manchester.

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.

Manchester sun
Corner of Sheffield Street and Allegheny Avenue on the eastern border of Manchester. Pittsburgh Public Housing Authority apartments are just out of the frame and to the right.

Methodology Note:

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.