Pittsburgh Today report finds population shift as young people move to city

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It doesn't sound like much, but new and longtime Lawrenceville residents were excited last week when Diamond Cleaners opened in the 5200 block of Butler Street.

A dry-cleaning business is the kind of economic development both groups want to see in the growing community, said Lauren Byrne, executive director of Lawrenceville United.

"Lawrenceville has changed drastically over the last 10 years," Ms. Byrne said. "Not all of the development has been as welcomed, but everybody seemed to be excited about the dry cleaner. That's the kind of business they want to see."

The annual Pittsburgh Today report released last month, "Pittsburgh Today & Tomorrow 2013," highlighted Lawrenceville as a growing area experiencing a substantial shift in population as younger people move into the area. The study (available at pittsburghtoday.org) ranks Pittsburgh against 15 cities of similar size across the country.

The study found that after years of steep declines, the Lawrenceville neighborhood has gotten substantially younger as the population stabilized. From 1990 to 2010, the number of residents 65 or older dropped from 25 to 16 percent.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of young adults, ages 18 to 24, increased by 25 percent. Across the city, the increase in that age group was 17 percent.

In other areas, the study showed continuing trends in a number of categories: Transportation infrastructure is in poor shape due to deteriorating bridges and limited funding; the streets generally have substantially less crime than those in other cities; housing prices have remained stable or risen here while they have declined in many other places; minorities continue to lag behind in education and income; and the Port Authority highlights a public transportation system that generally is lacking sustainable funding and is facing another deadline for substantial cuts in September.

In Lawrenceville, the shift to a younger population -- and community development efforts -- resulted in a substantial increase in the cost of housing, especially in the area known as Lower Lawrenceville. Since 1995, the cost of residential property has risen 104 percent in that neighborhood, compared to 24 percent across the city, the study said.

Ms. Byrne said her agency spends a lot of time integrating younger residents with the established community. In the past few weeks, it hosted mixers to introduce newcomers to the area in each of the distinct parts of the neighborhood, Upper, Central and Lower Lawrenceville.

In most cases, she said, newcomers have been attracted by the traditional character and style of the community.

"It's not like they want to create a community of their own," she said. "For the most part, they were attracted by what we already have here. They want to be a part of that."

Because neighborhood residents saw the shift and growth coming, Ms. Byrne said, Lawrenceville has been able to stay ahead of the type of parking and residential-commercial clashes that have developed in areas such as the South Side. The neighborhood has had a hospitality committee for several years to help ease the tension before it gets out of hand.

The dry-cleaning business is the type of service-oriented development that naturally follows a neighborhood's population shift, she said.

"Those will come as growth occurs," she said. "We'll see grocers and other businesses coming along soon."

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who lives in the city's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, said it's easy to see more young people as he travels about the area.

"We're seeing that through all the young people moving here in all the neighborhoods," he said. "When young people are moving here, they want to be closer, they want to be in the city.

"Young people tend not to like long commutes to go to work. If they're working in the city, they want to be able to walk, use mass transit or bike. We're seeing changing attitudes about where people want to live. I think all that is kind of feeding into the new revitalization of Allegheny County."

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wasn't available for an interview, but in a written statement said the city is seeing results from its neighborhood revitalization efforts.

"With a growing job force, affordable new homes in thriving neighborhoods, and great shopping and dining options -- Pittsburgh is a place where young people want to live," the mayor said. "We are currently looking into opportunities to study what factors help attract young professionals to city living. Our goal is to ensure that this current trend continues for decades to come."

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Andrew McGill contributed. Ed Blazina: eblazina@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1470. First Published March 17, 2013 4:00 AM


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