Elements of Urbanism: Pittsburgh

August 5, 2009 28 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores another riverfront city that is dominated by a unique collection of urban neighborhoods: Pittsburgh.

Tale of the Tape:

Pittsburgh Pop. 2008: 310,037 (City); 2,351,192 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1816)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Pittsburgh (676,806)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Pittsburgh: -3.29%
Jacksonville: +16.97%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Pittsburgh: 1,753,136 (ranked 22 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Pittsburgh: 2,056.7 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,149.2 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Pittsburgh: -24,526
Jacksonville: +72,312

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Pittsburgh: David L. Lawrence Convention Center (2003)  - 313,400 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Attached to Convention Center:

Pittsburgh: Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh (616 rooms), Courtyard by Marriott (172 rooms)
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Pittsburgh: US Steel Plaza - 841 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Downtown Fortune 500 companies:

Pittsburgh: U.S. Steel (105), PPG Industries (161), HJ Heinz (267), PNC Financial (278), WESCO (406), Allegheny Technologies (448), Mylan Laboratories (462), CONSOL Energy (497).
Jacksonville: CSX (240)

Urban infill obstacles:

Pittsburgh: Light rail system does not serve urban core districts outside of downtown.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Pittsburgh: The Cultural District, Strip District
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.

Common Downtown Albatross:

A lack of fixed transit options that connect the downtown core to vibrant inner city urban districts.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Pittsburgh: 98 out of 100 (Downtown Pittsburgh as keyword)
Jacksonville: 95 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Downtown Jacksonville as keyword)

Pittsburgh - Jacksonville Scaled Comparison

Jacksonville municipal borders: present (red), pre-consolidated city limits (green)

Jacksonville present (red line) and pre-consolidated city limits (green line) over Pittsburgh's city limits (orange shaded area)

A brief drive through a few of Pittsburgh's vibrant urban core neighborhoods

Red line indicates light rail.  Dashed red line indicates light rail under construction.  Blue line indicates east busway.


Bloomfield is located about three miles east of downtown Pittsburgh.  It is referred to as Pittsburgh's Little Italy. Liberty Avenue is the neighborhood's main business thoroughfare and rowhouses dominate the area's housing stock.


Lawrenceville is one of Pittsburgh's largest neighborhoods.  Established in 1914, it was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1868.  A century ago, the community served as a residential and commercial district for nearby steel and iron companies.  Today, it is an up and coming district with the second highest real estate price appreciation figures in the city.

Strip District

During the 19th century, the Strip District was dominated by industrial uses along the Allegheny River.  Companies operating in the neighborhood during that era include US Steel, Westinghouse, Pittsburgh Reduction Company (ALCOA) and H.J. Heinz Company.  By the 1920's, the district had become the economic center of the city.  Today, the district's old obsolete industrial buildings house wholesalers, street vendors, clubs, bars, restaurants and lofts.


Since the 1920's, Shadyside has been dominated by a mix of affluent families, young professionals, artist and students.  Shadyside's housing stock includes a mix of Victorian mansions, apartments and condominiums.  Walnut Street serves as the neighborhood's commercial center.  Public transportation is available via a busway stop on the edge of the community.

The East Busway connects Shadyside to Downtown.


Located along the Monongahela River, this neighborhood is the home of the East Carson Street Historic District.  East Carson Street is one of the largest 19th century Victorian commercial districts in the country.  Today, East Carson Street is the home of a significant portion of Pittsburgh's nightlife.

Double Wide Grill: The reuse of this service station and its parking lot is an example of how a suburban structure can be integrated into a walkable setting.

- Southside Works

Southside Works is a lifestyle center anchoring the East Carson Street Historic District.  Completed in 2002, the urban infill shopping center was constructed on the former site of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company's "Southside Works" plant.  This massive industrial complex was shut down in the mid-1980s.

- Station Square

Station Square is an indoor/outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex anchoring the northern end of Pittsburgh's Southside.  The development was built at the location of a former station on the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, with some of the original structures such as the freight house building and the elegant concourse being converted into restaurants and a shopping mall.

Squirrel Hill

Squirrel Hill was an affluent suburb of Pittsburgh in the early 19th century.  Annexed by Pittsburgh in 1868, the neighborhood has had a large Jewish population since the 1920s.  According to a 2002 study by the United Jewish Federation,33% of the Jewish population of greater Pittsburgh lives in Squirrel Hill and another 14% live in the surrounding neighborhoods.  Murray Avenue, south of Forbes, is the commercial heart of the community.

University of Pittsburgh

The University of Pittsburgh, commonly referred to as Pitt, is a state-related research university located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. Chartered in 1787, Pitt is highly regarded in academic fields ranging from philosophy to medicine, and is well known for the development of the first Polio vaccine as well as its landmark centerpiece building, the Cathedral of Learning.

Founded as Pittsburgh Academy in 1787 on what was then the American frontier, Pitt is one of the oldest continuously chartered institutions of higher education in the United States. Pitt evolved into the Western University of Pennsylvania with an alteration to its charter in 1819, and upon relocating to its current campus in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh in 1908, the school received its current moniker, the University of Pittsburgh. For most of its history, Pitt was a private institution until it became part of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education in 1966.

Pitt's rise from its humble frontier beginnings to its current stature is due in part to its ability to withstand early pressures to abandon its commitment to liberal education. Along the way Pitt has achieved strong reputations in a variety of academic disciplines including philosophy, physics, astronomy, history of science, English literature, creative writing, chemistry, business, biological sciences, jazz, engineering, education, international studies, and a variety of medical and health sciences.

For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Pittsburgh

The Cathedral of Learning, a Pittsburgh landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is the centerpiece of the University of Pittsburgh's main campus in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. Standing at 535 feet, the 42-story Late Gothic Revival Cathedral is the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere and the second tallest university building (fourth tallest educationally-purposed building) in the world. The Cathedral of Learning was commissioned in 1921 and ground was broken in 1926. The first class was held in the building in 1931 prior to its final completion in 1937. The Cathedral is steel frame structure overlaid with Indiana limestone and contains more than 2,000 rooms and 2,529 windows. An impressive scenic building, it is often used by the University in photographs, postcards, and other advertisements.


A busway along 5th Street

Above, an aerial of a busway stop in urban Pittsburgh.  Below, an aerail of a light rail stop in urban Pittsburgh.  These images clearly illustrate how busways and light rail lines can be integrated in areas of dense population.


Located on the north side of the Allegheny River, this district is the home of Heinz Field (Pittsburgh Steelers) and PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates).  Today, the neighborhood is a hot spot for urban infill taking over massive surface parking lots that surround the sports facilities.  Major construction projects include a new light rail subway extension to serve the district and a casino.

This sidewalk, connecting the Northshore with Downtown, is attached to an I-279 bridge.  Should the same be considered for Jacksonville's Fuller Warren, Hart or Matthews Bridges?

Completed in 2001, PNC Park is the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates MLB franchise.  With only 38,496 seats, it has the second-smallest seating capacity of any Major League park.

However, the $216 million park may be one of the most well designed.  Built in the style of "classic" stadiums, the park also features many local eateries at street level.

For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PNC_Park

Unique Pittsburgh

  • The city's Downtown retains substantial economic influence, ranking at 25th in the nation for jobs within the urban core (and is 6th in job density).
  • In 2008, Forbes listed Pittsburgh as the 13th best city for young professionals to live.
  • In 2009, Pittsburgh was named most livable city in the United States by The Economist.
  • Pittsburgh was named in 1758 by General John Forbes in honor of the British statesman, Sir William Pitt.
  • In 1911, Pittsburgh was the nation's 8th largest city, producing between a third and a half of the nation's steel.
  • Pittsburgh's population peaked in 1950, with 676,806.  Current census estimates indicate that the city has lost 366,769 residents between 1950 and 2008.
  • Pittsburgh is the only city where all major professional sports teams share the same colors: Black and Gold.
  • Sworn in at age 26, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is the youngest mayor in the history of any major American city.

The Golden Triangle (Downtown)

Also known as the Golden Triangle, downtown Pittsburgh is the region's economic center.  

Downtown Pittsburgh's retail scene is anchored by a Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstroms.

Point State Park is located where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River.

Market Square is dominated by a large number of dining establishments in the center of downtown.

The David L. Lawrence Convention Center is the largest LEED certified convention center in the world.

In downtown, there is no fare to ride the T light rail system.

Wood Street subway station

Transportation Center

Cultural District

Both Pittsburgh and Jacksonville are river cities that feature a diverse mix of vibrant urban core districts outside of downtown.  In addition, this scaled aerial indicates that downtown Pittsburgh and Jacksonville's Northbank are roughly the same size.  The major difference, at street level, is that the majority of downtown Pittsburgh's building stock still remains.

Article by Ennis Davis