Geospatial Analysis of Gun Violence in Allegheny County, with focus on City of Pittsburgh

All people, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, deserve to live in neighborhoods that are safe and free of violence. Overall violence, and gun violence victimization in particular, is not randomly distributed, however. Rather, gun violence is heavily concentrated in just a small number of higher-need communities and overwhelmingly cuts short the lives of young Black men.

Some neighborhoods are more susceptible to gun violence as a result of decades of discriminatory housing, lending and land-use policy; outmigration and the impacts of deindustrialization and economic restructuring; the crack-cocaine epidemic and the ensuing War
on Drugs; and persistent disinvestment and abandonment. Additionally, the absence of stricter firearm control in the United States has led to interpersonal crime that is far more likely to turn deadly than in other countries with similar levels of crime but much lower rates of gun ownership.

Using data from the Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner (ACOME), I analyzed homicide trends from 2016 through 2021; I did this for my day job as an analyst at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. Homicides make up about a quarter of gun violence each year, with non-fatal shootings accounting for most gun violence. As such, I also used data from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (PBP) to analyze trends in non-fatal shootings. The full report can be accessed here.

I also built out this interactive homicide map which allows users to examine homicide trend data in Allegheny County from 2007 through 2021 by location, block group, census tract, and municipality.

The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Disadvantage Map:

Welcome to The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project’s Pittsburgh Neighborhood Disadvantage Map or PNDM.

Place matters in determining a variety of long-term outcomes for children and The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Project’s mission is to educate Pittsburghers on the causes, consequences and persistence of neighborhood level poverty, disadvantage, advantage and racial segregation over long stretches of time. Place matters because race matters and our neighborhoods were segregated by design.

Our map can be accessed here and is a tool to help users understand the connection between place, race, advantage, and disadvantage in City of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Our majority White neighborhoods tend to be advantaged areas that are well connected to opportunity (with exceptions) while our majority Black neighborhoods face steep challenges and disadvantages and are not connected to the same opportunity.

By “disadvantage” we mean the collection of entrenched challenges, stressors (risk factors) and unequal conditions that some people are born into that are beyond their control, limit their opportunity and cause a a wide range of adverse outcomes. By “advantage” we mean the collection of sustained privileges, protective factors and favorable conditions that other people are born into that are beyond their control, expand their opportunity and facilitate a wide range of positive outcomes. Urban sociologists often refer to place-based disadvantage as concentrated disadvantage.

In this context, we specifically define disadvantage as an index comprised of the following variables: 1) percent of families living below the federal poverty line 2) percent of single mothers 3) percent of men ages 20-64 unemployed or unattached to the labor force 4) percent of those ages 25 and up without a Bachelor’s or more 5) rate of gun shots reported/fired per 500 people and 6) average adult income rank for children born to parents at the 25th percentile of the income distribution from 1978-1983.

The map contains an about section, detailed mapping methodology and a brief county level racial analysis, in addition to information on a variety of neighborhood level data points included and not included in our disadvantage index.


Urban Gun Violence in the City of Pittsburgh

Since February of last year I’ve completed a number of Neighborhood Profiles for some of Pittsburgh’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. These profiles were informed by my street by street walk of each respective neighborhood, resident interviews, publicly available data and analyses I’ve completed for this project and by projects I’ve completed at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

As part of my resident interviews, I ask what residents like best and least about their respective neighborhoods. One of the most common refrains from the residents I spoke to was “Something has to be done about the gun violence.” As a result of these conversations, I decided to dedicate the past few months to writing the following essays on Urban Gun Violence in Pittsburgh; both to better understand just why our most disadvantaged neighborhoods suffer from comparatively high levels of gun violence and to see what the city is doing to address it.

These essays were informed by the Black residents I spoke to, prominent Black urban violence reduction practitioners, poverty, race and homicide/non-fatal shooting data (via the American Community Survey and Allegheny Analytics) and by national experts on neighborhood effects and urban gun violence.

These articles were published via Public Source. Please click on the links below to read them.

Urban Gun Violence Part 1 explores the community level antecedents of gun violence and shows that Pittsburgh’s Black communities are the primary victims of Urban Gun Violence. The essay makes clear that historic and current racism have led to these outcomes. The loss of life due to gun violence in our Black communities is astounding and tragic, and yet it does not receive the same public attention as other violence reduction efforts.

Urban Gun Violence Part 2 presents the most effective Urban Gun Violence reduction strategies. Several of these strategies require collaboration between law enforcement, community groups and social service agencies. However, the essay makes clear that aggressive policing and police violence against the Black community have eroded community trust in the police.

Black men stand at a frustrating crossroads because they are simultaneously the most likely to die from Urban Gun Violence and the most likely to be killed by the police. If Urban Gun Violence is to be effectively reduced, then the trust between the community and the police must be repaired, which will take considerable effort, policy changes and time. Black Lives Matter and this issue must be discussed with respect, data and urgency.


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: Brookline

Brookline is the place that made me. It’s the place where my siblings and I learned to swim with the patient help of my dad at the now closed Brookline Memorial pool. And the place where I once collected more than a thousand signatures to try to keep that pool open in the early 2000s. It’s the place where I was primarily raised. It’s the place where my mom once blew up an inflatable swimming pool with her breath alone because we were too poor to afford an air pump; it was an act of love and left her breathless. But it’s also the place where my siblings and I were abused – much like our parents were abused before they had us. And it’s the place where my siblings and I watched on in desperation as our younger brother endured two battles with cancer; one in his blood and one in his central nervous system. It’s the place where the first Las Palmas opened and is home to a growing Latino community. It houses Brookline’s commercial corridor which contained “moon-sized” pot holes for nearly all of my life, until it was re-paved a few years back. It’s home to Resurrection parish and the locally famous church carnival dubbed the Fun Flair. It’s the place where my siblings and I would play with our beloved dog Shadow in the backyard and where we cultivated bug gardens when we were too young to second guess picking up a spider. It’s the place where my best friend and I used to send each other to the hospital because of how dumb we were – which included an epic bike race down Brookline’s steepest cobblestone streets and a lot of stitches. It’s the place where I would wake up anxious during summer mornings when the sun had reached above my neighbor’s house; nervous that I had missed the chance to watch my feet illuminate with the sun’s glare as I sat on the stoop of our front porch on Rossmore Avenue.

The house I was raised in on Rossmore Avenue in Brookline. Photo taken during the winter of 2019.

Hockey Rink in Brookline Memorial Park. The rink replaced the swimming pool where I learned to swim as a child. My dad taught us all to swim. My mom would sit and watch near the Hippo that used to sit in the baby pool. Photo taken in the fall of 2018.

It’s the place where my neighborhood friends and I used to save up enough change so we could buy a pack of Pokémon cards at the former Fancy Nancy’s back in the 90s. And also the place where we played countless neighborhood wide games of basketball, release, had water balloon fights and screamed obscenities at each other while we played the Nintendo 64. It’s the place where we made horrible home movies with special effects including baby powder, the Titanic movie soundtrack and the machine gun noise from the N64 game Jet Force Gemini. It’s the place that houses one of our former rental homes on Fordham Avenue; the house where I was afraid to walk down the basement steps for fear that I would fall between the empty spaces. It’s the place where my first crush told me that, “Looks aren’t everything” and then kissed me on the cheek by the hoop out behind the house. It’s the main subject of my most recent band’s record literally called “Placed.” It’s the place where I learned to play guitar, learned to love and became resilient. It’s the place where I was once an altar server, Boy Scout, terrible baseball player and it was my escape for all those days I skipped school. It’s a place that some suburban kids with money (from my Catholic High School) associated with poor White people – even if I was one of only a small percentage of poor White families living in Brookline. They called me “White Trash.” I eventually gained enough confidence to call them “Yuppies.” It’s the place where my childhood best friend and I grew up; we were born in the same hospital 3 days a part and we’ve known each other for 30 years now. It’s the echo of nearly every cherished childhood memory I have. And it’s the place where I currently live. There are too many moments, places and people to speak of in Brookline. And while I may not remember all of them, they have shaped me.

Brookline Boulevard is the neighborhood’s vibrant commercial district. The Brookline fire station is seen towards the center of the frame. Las Palmas is visible in the distance. Photo taken in the fall of 2018.

Brookline is accessible via the 39 and its northwestern border is accessible via the 41. However, bus service stops before midnight and the 39 doesn’t run at all on Sundays – which makes the neighborhood a bit inaccessible for people like myself who do not own a car and rely on public transit seven days a week. But much like neighboring Beechview, it is extremely convenient for those who work downtown, and commuters can make it to town via the South Busway in less than 15-20 minutes.  Like many of Pittsburgh’s hilly neighborhoods, Brookline streets are narrow and they often do not follow any sort of grid. As such, navigating them is a learned skill. Despite its many hills, the neighborhood is extremely walkable but has steep streets north, south, east and west of Brookline Boulevard. And city steps are a necessary form of transportation that allow residents to navigate Brookline’s various short cuts and its steepest streets. The border of Brookline is much like a Diamond. West Liberty Avenue comprises Brookline’s northwestern border and meets at a northern point with the neighborhood’s northeastern border – which is made up of the South Busway and Saw Mill Run Boulevard. Similarly, McNeilly Avenue, Dorchester Avenue and a number of other streets comprise the southwestern border and Brookline Memorial Park and several other streets come together to form Brookline’s southeastern and southern borders. Beechview and the suburbs of Dormont, Mount Lebanon and Baldwin Township border Brookline to the northwest, west, southwest and south, respectively. And Bon Air, Carrick and Overbrook border Brookline to the northeast, east and southeast, respectively. Saw Mill Run Boulevard cuts Brookline and other south Pittsburgh neighborhoods off from the neighborhoods located in the South Hilltop.


Brookline is located in South Pittsburgh. 

Brookline is a durably low-poverty neighborhood that is primarily comprised of middle class and working class residents. Unlike other very low-poverty neighborhoods such as the affluent Squirrel Hill North, Point Breeze and Regent Square, which have the 3 highest median incomes in the city, Brookline is relatively affordable and has a considerably lower median income. And unlike durably high poverty neighborhoods like Knoxville and Garfield, Brookline has low levels of gun violence. Brookline offers a myriad of economically accessible and community driven enrichment activities for children and teenagers, has a vibrant commercial corridor with properties ranging from a local video game development incubator and arcade to the spacious Carnegie Library of Brookline and offers a number of local restaurants and a comic book store known as the Geekadrome – a place where teens can gather and play Magic the Gathering. Brookline is also home to the Pittsburgh famous Fiori’s Pizza and Pitaland, has two recreational parks and hosts a number of neighborhood youth sports’ teams. And as of 2015, it’s home to the Brookline Teen Outreach Center. BTO is a youth community outreach center that offers a variety of free programming, a safe space and activities for teens 10-18. My younger sister Joan has volunteered there since its inception and is one of the center’s therapists. BTO is a space that Joan and I wished we had access to when we were kids. And it’s one of the only programs like it in south Pittsburgh; the section of Pittsburgh that has one of the highest percentage of youth and yet has surprisingly little outreach regarding free counseling, tutoring, programming and connection to community service opportunities for teens. It is a welcomed addition to the neighborhood and needs support.

The intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Bellaire Avenue. Brookline Boulevard is visible in the distance. Photo taken in the winter of 2019.

Like a number of Pittsburgh neighborhoods which are shaped by their respective topography, Brookline is contained and feels like a small town, not a dense City of Pittsburgh neighborhood. Named after its founders who hailed from Brookline, Massachusetts, the neighborhood was once a part of West Liberty borough and was annexed by the city in 1908. Brookline’s coal veins and rich land made the location ideal for farmers and miners. And it’s assets paved the way for a southern railroad and the construction of tunnels – in order to move goods to the city’s Monongahela river corridor. As a former trolley line and the construction of the Liberty Tunnel paved the way to Downtown Pittsburgh, the South Side Flats and the city’s East End, an influx of new residents drove dense residential development in the form of modest single family homes along the neighborhood’s peaks and valleys. Brookline is the second largest neighborhood in the entire city and has the 3rd largest population of all Pittsburgh neighborhoods and neighborhood areas (13,072 as of 2017 American Community Survey estimates and following behind Squirrel Hill South and Shadyside in total population, respectively). The neighborhood is home to Brookline Elementary and South Brook middle school. As of writing this, all of Brookline’s Catholic Schools are closed or closing – which include the former church of Resurrection’s school, Our Lady of Loretto and the former Brookline Regional Catholic – which was renamed as St. John Bosco Academy and is scheduled to close. My sisters and I attended all of these Catholic schools and received financial aid from the diocese of Pittsburgh, and my younger brother attended Our Lady of Loretto, the former Brookline Regional Catholic and Brookline Elementary.

Sturdy brick single family homes off of Pioneer Avenue. Located across the street from Moore Park. Photo taken in the late winter of 2019.

Regarding my street by street walk of the neighborhood, I cheated this time. Through-out my over 30-years of life, I’ve lived in Brookline for more than 20 of those years. As such, I’ve walked every single street in Brookline many times over. The neighborhood has one of the highest elevations in the city and it’s always amusing when flurried snow falls only settle on the streets of Brookline and not in neighborhoods that are closer in elevation to the river beds. And given this elevation, the U.S Steel Tower and other downtown buildings are visible from the top of Rossmore Avenue and Flastbush –  in addition to other high up vantage points. While the neighborhood is comprised of a maze of tightly tangled streets and avenues, there is ample green space in Brookline. The untamed wooded valley east of Moore Park proper is the perfect place for paintball games – as evidenced by the many games I played there in my early 20s. And the would be forest surrounding either side of Edgebrook Avenue is vast and evokes an eerie feeling when driving down it after the sun has gone down. Likewise, a massive green space exists south of Whited Street and even more greenery is found via Brookline Memorial Park in the south-eastern part of the community.

Intersection of Flatbush and Rossmore Avenues. The U.S Steel Tower is visible on the horizon. The northern section of Brookline is laid out below the steep hill. Photo taken in the late winter of 2019.

Baseball field in Moore Park in Brookline. Moore Pool is in the distance. My brother and I are still swimmers and swim daily at the public pools and at the Oliver Bathhouse in the Southside Flats. This became our pool after Brookline Memorial pool closed down in the early 2000s. Photo taken in the summer of 2018.

Brookline is the space where my walks and my fascination with this city’s neighborhoods began. When I was younger, the streets of Brookline acted as a giant playground for my friends and me. And as a teenager and young adult, they offered an escape from my bouts of depression, panic disorder and loneliness. To this day, literally, my brother and I have walked Brookline in search of beauty, an ice cream cone from Scoops and to completely indulge ourselves in nostalgic conversations of our youth. Implicit in these statements regarding what Brookline is and what it has to offer is the idea that my growing up in Brookline offered me a form of stability that is not always found in Pittsburgh’s high poverty neighborhoods. And that growing up in a low-income home in such a connected, low violence and enriching community is not the same as growing up in a low-income home in areas of concentrated poverty; a reality that too many low-income Black children face. The majority of low-income White people in Pittsburgh live in neighborhoods with lower poverty rates as compared to those inhabited by the majority of low-income Black residents. As shown in the data brief regarding economic and racial segregation in Pittsburgh, nearly all of Pittsburgh’s majority Black neighborhoods are high or extreme poverty while only 3 of the 50 majority White neighborhoods and neighborhood areas are considered high poverty (i.e., neighborhoods with rates of 30 to 39% of individuals living below the Federal Poverty Line). There was no majority White neighborhood that was considered extreme poverty with rates of 40% poverty or more, while 41% of majority black neighborhoods were extreme poverty as of 2017 estimates.

Resurrection Church off of Creedmoor Avenue in Brookline. A main stay of my walks through the neighborhood. I attended school here from kindergarten to first grade before it closed and was an altar server here. My Boy Scout Troop 6 of Brookline met in a room below the church. My dad loved the scouts. Photo taken in the fall of 2018. 

My brother John looks on as the sun sets south of Chelton Avenue. This courtyard used to house the Church of Resurrection’s annual carnival called the Fun Flair. The last carnival was held here in the summer of 2016. It has since moved to St. Pius which is located off of Pioneer Avenue in the southwestern part of the neighborhood. My dad did the electrical work for this carnival since we were kids. My mother would walk us up when we were kids. Photo taken in the fall of 2018.

Brookline has remained very low poverty for at least the 27 years of data that I examined. From 1990 to 2017 the poverty rate remained below 10% (from 6% to only 9%). And the community is overwhelmingly White (91% in 2012 and 86% in 2017). In fact, with the exception of Squirrel Hill South, there are more White people in Brookline than any other neighborhood or neighborhood area in the city per 2017 ACS estimates. Luckily, the neighborhood has become at least marginally more diverse in the past 5-years. The percentage of Black people has grown from 4% to 6%, the Asian population from 1% to 3% and the Latino or Hispanic population from 1% to 2%. While this percentage of Hispanic or Latino residents appears to be quite low, Latinos or Hispanics make up only 3% of the entire City of Pittsburgh population per 1-year 2017 ACS estimates. And Brookline has the 3rd highest number of Hispanic or Latino residents when excluding college heavy neighborhoods (only Beechview and Greenfield have higher numbers). However, even marginal increases in the diversity of the community have been met by hostility and hate from a subset of the population. And while I owe much to this community, Brookline is not without its problems.

“The Canon” veteran memorial at Brookline Boulevard and Queensboro Avenue. My siblings and I used to play on the canon when we were younger. Hell, I played on it last year. Photo taken in the winter of 2019.

In December of 2015 and March of 2016 the Mexican owned and operated Las Palmas on Brookline Boulevard was graffitied with hateful messages, which opened its doors to a growing Latino population in 2009 in Brookline. Phrases such as “Go Back to Mexico,” “Illegal Trespassers” and “Liars” were graffitied on the store. But luckily, and in a show of support against such bigotry, students from Brashear High School and other volunteers painted over the remarks and added their own mural and the phrase “Welcome to Brookline” in Spanish on the building. And a number of Brookliners lined the Boulevard to purchase food from the Las Palmas taco stand. In doing so, they showed that Brookline will in fact be defined as a neighborhood that welcomes minority groups, not one that detests them. But in November of 2018 yet another highly visible display of hate was tied to the neighborhood. Dozens of white supremacy and neo-nazi fliers were hung throughout the neighborhood just before the midterm elections. Phrases such as “Better Dead Than Red” and “Support Patriot Front” were written on the fliers. And this occurred only a week after the mass anti-Semitic shooting that left 11 dead in the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill North. While the posters were torn down immediately and business owners and representatives denounced the messages of hate, these displays of hate are a reminder that there are those in Brookline that may welcome families like mine, but not ones that are different shades of hue or belief. Like Squirrel Hill North and many other overwhelmingly White Pittsburgh neighborhoods, Brookline is also highly segregated by race and income and its racial composition reveals just how separate so many Black and White Pittsburghers are from one another.

Beautiful cobblestone road at the intersection of Rossmore and Glenarm Avenues. Photo taken in the fall of 2018.

Besides some growth in the non-White population, Brookline has changed little over the past 5 years according to ACS estimates. As of 2017 estimates, the percentage of single mothers with children was low at 9% (well below the citywide estimate), the rate of males unemployed or unattached to the labor force was below the city estimate at 21% and the neighborhood is becoming more educated with a 7% decline in those 25 and up without a Bachelor’s degree or more (75% to 68%). Regarding that last point, such a decline may be due to the more recent influx of educated families looking to work downtown and who wish to live in a contained and affordable neighborhood like Brookline. This influx may be represented in the growth of the median home value as well – which increased by nearly $7,000 from 2012 to 2017 (from roughly $91,000 to $98,000).

But besides some of the aforementioned changes in measures of need and value, most other indicators have barely budged. As of 2017, the median income stayed nearly unchanged at roughly $56,000 and median asking rent also barely changed and was roughly $850. The more noticeable changes are those regarding measures for Black individuals and families. While the White poverty rate barely decline over 5-years (roughly 9% to 8%), the Black poverty rate fell by 10 percentage points (32% to 22%) and the Black median income rose from roughly $46,000 to roughly $61,000. Clearly, and like in most Pittsburgh neighborhoods and neighborhood areas, there are racial disparities in the rate of those living below the FPL by racial group – with the Black poverty rate more than double the White poverty rate. However, Brookline is one of the few areas where the Black median income is higher than the white median income (roughly $61,000 to $57,000, respectively). Thus, it appears as though a small number of middle income Black households are calling Brookline home, given the large increase in median income and the sizeable decrease in Black poverty.

My current rental in Brookline. Photo taken in the summer of 2018.

I am proud to call Brookline home. And I’m beyond lucky that my parents were able to move us to Brookline and raise my siblings and I here. While our home life was far from stable, and I can say that I still very much struggle with the long-terms effects of that instability and exposure to trauma, the stability of the broader neighborhood offered an important counter balance to the risk factors we experienced at home and else where. And it’s also more of what we weren’t exposed to that also helped us move ahead, regarding the comparatively high rates of concentrated disadvantage and community violence found in many of Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods; a harsh reality born of concentrated poverty and extreme inopportunity that was explored in both the Knoxville and Garfield profiles. I firmly believe that my growing up in Brookline is connected to the social mobility that I’ve been lucky enough to achieve. And given that race has played such a large role regarding discrimination in our housing and lending markets and shaping the economic and racial compositions of neighborhoods across the U.S, my being White provided my parent’s with the ability to buy a house in Brookline – even though we were low-income. Our home life was extremely complicated, and my relationship with my parents is extremely complicated as a result, but I’m so grateful to have lived here.

My dad in our back yard. There used to be a swing set back here. We spent a ton of time here as kids. Our pets are buried in back. RIP Shadow and all our other amazing pets. Photo taken in the summer of 2018.

The initials “NBCJ” are painted in blue on our back deck off of Rossmore Avenue. It was painted on 8/8/2001. The initials stand for Nick, Bo, Conner and John. Bo and Conner were my childhood best friends and also lived in Brookline. John is my younger brother. I was surprised that the initials are still here nearly 2 decades later. Feels. Photo taken in the summer of 2018.

Although the 1968 Fair Housing Law barred discrimination based on race and other protected classes, the effects of segregation are often lasting and racial discrimination has been found on a large-scale as recent as the 2000s regarding subprime mortgage lending discrepancies based on race. Likewise, the law does not protect against source of income discrimination – which has been linked to landlord refusal of subsidized housing vouchers and can be used as a proxy for racial discrimination. And unlike some of my Black and Latino neighbors, I never felt unwelcome in Brookline. Lastly, neighborhoods like Brookline offer hope for low-income families who are able to move there. And neighborhoods do not need to be affluent to help provide low-income kids with the conditions and opportunities to get ahead; they can be working class and middle class areas like Brookline – with its very low poverty rate, low levels of community violence and connected informal and formal networks that can provide less fortunate neighbors with short-term and long-term living wage opportunities. A broad array of urban sociology and urban poverty research show that the neighborhoods in which we develop have profound and lasting impacts on our socio-economic and health-based outcomes. And researcher Raj Chetty of Harvard found that children below the age of 12 who were randomly assigned a subsidized housing voucher that restricted them to live in a low poverty neighborhood, via a housing voucher lottery, had significantly higher incomes as adults as compared to their peers who remained in high poverty neighborhoods. And so, if Brookline can be a welcoming place for low-income families with children of all colors and creeds, it may offer a pathway of social mobility for those families. Much like it did for me. Attitudes will not change over night, but as long as racial segregation (and a lack of dialogue about the benefits of diversity) continues to be the norm in many majority White Pittsburgh neighborhoods then these attitudes will likely persist. We must do what we can to welcome diversity in neighborhoods like Brookline, provide integrated and affordable housing options for low-income families, seek out and assist minority owned businesses and push to educate one another on the causes and consequences of racial and economic segregation in Pittsburgh.

Brookline Memorial Park’s upper baseball field. I played baseball here for most of my youth. I was terrible. Guess what position I played? Hint: Most batters hit left or center because they are right-handed. I wasn’t good enough to catch their hits.

This neighborhood profile is dedicated to my siblings and my best friend Conner (all of whom I love deeply). And to Dillon and Cory whom are like brothers too and have learned to call Brookline their home over the years. And to my mom and dad who brought us here. I love you all. And I love Brookline.

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. Because Brookline consists of 4 census tracts, neighborhood level estimates were calculated via a weighted average based on census 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.*