Pittsburgh population moves upward -- by 152

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If the city of Pittsburgh is no longer the anchor dragging down the county's and region's population, it's hardly the engine driving a resurgence, either.

The U.S. Census Bureau today is releasing municipal population numbers for July 1, 2012, estimating the city gained population for the second consecutive year after some six decades of downturn. But Pittsburgh's supposed gain of 152 people, adding up to a population estimate of 306,211, might be as noticeable as adding a few more carp to the Mon.

The city, still 61st largest in the nation, would have needed to gain 20 times as many people to grow its population by a mere 1 percent between 2011 and 2012. The Census Bureau previously released numbers showing Allegheny County continuing several years of population growth, increasing by 0.2 percent, or 2,496 residents, between 2011 and 2012.

Eleven suburbs around Allegheny County grew by at least 1 percent, and four of them -- Franklin Park, South Fayette, Pine and Collier -- gained more people than much-larger Pittsburgh's 152. Those four -- plus Ohio Township, Jefferson Hills and Marshall -- were the only municipalities in the county both to gain at least 100 people and grow at a rate of at least 1 percent.

PG graphic: Local population gains
(Click image for larger version)

The county's most northern communities abutting Butler County have been its most prominent growth area in recent decades, but the new numbers highlight a less conspicuous trend of people moving into the southwestern communities sandwiched between Interstate 79 and the Parkway West.

The irony, of course, is that much of the charm of places such as South Fayette and Collier is their rural character, and the more people that arrive, the less rural they may become.

"Everyone wants to be the last one in," noted South Fayette township engineer Mike Benton. "It's something we definitely have to make sure we get control of and make sure the growth is handled well."

In addition to growing 2.3 percent in the past year, third-fastest in Allegheny County, Collier became 34 percent larger between the census counts of 2000 and 2010. Township manager Sal Sirabella doesn't see that as a problem -- "It's pretty much steady growth" -- but he said Collier's new comprehensive plan through 2012 includes a focus on maintaining "a good rural character."

"Right now 40 percent of the community is undeveloped, and we're going to keep it that way," Mr. Sirabella said. "We need to preserve the character that makes people want to live here."

While the majority of municipalities around the county had virtually no change in population in the most recent year, the expansion of housing communities such as Nevillewood and Settlers Ridge in Collier and the Berkshires and Newbury Ridge in South Fayette keep making room for new residents.

"There's definitely nine to 10 developments [in South Fayette] still building houses," Mr. Benton said, noting it's harder to do that in nearby suburbs already more dense with development, such as Robinson and Mt. Lebanon. "It doesn't surprise me people would want to be here. It's the same reasons -- the rural character and the schools."

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Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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