Where to raise a family in Pittsburgh?
August 30, 2005 1:53 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I will most likely be moving to Pittsburgh next year with our children, one of whom will be starting kindergarten. We really enjoy living in the city and urban life. School quality is also a huge priority for us now. Can we have both of these things in Pittsburgh?

Does anyone have any experiences with raising kids (or growing up for that matter) in Pittsburgh? What are some great neighborhoods for families? Are magnate or charter schools a viable option? We are hoping to get our options narrowed down to a few places (parts of town, neighborhoods, etc.) that we can visit before taking the plunge. Any help from those knowledgeable would be really appreciated.
posted by misterioso to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I grew up in Mt Lebanon. I've been gone for 20 years now, but reckon it would still be hard to beat in terms of public school quality. It's not urban, but it's managable (7 miles, 35 mins) if you're not averse to a little public transport.

Bear in mind that Pittsburgh's cultural attractions are not downtown, nor are they clustered in one area. Oakland, the South Side, the North Side. I guess it's hard to find what you want. Maybe Shadyside for a little street life and some proximity to schools? S'liberty? Dunno - I've been gone too long.

Without kids, I can imagine some parts of the city that might suit, but I reckon it's more of a stretch when you try to add the "with kids" element. Mt Lebanon has one of the best public school systems in the country. That's hard to overlook. I think Upper St Clair also works well in that regard. Check out what you'll pay in property taxes, though!
posted by sagwalla at 2:25 PM on August 30, 2005

Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair are awfully snoozy, and definitely not urban. Squirrel Hill is a largely residential urban neighborhood with a large Jewish population (including a substantial Orthodox population) and good street life. The schools are also good. For elementary school, if you can get into the cachement for Linden, I can tell you that it in particular has a lot going for it.
posted by redfoxtail at 2:40 PM on August 30, 2005

For the most part Pittsburgh is a very family-friendly city, with lots of museums and annual events that are great for kids. Start your search by looking in Squirrel Hill. If I had to move back to Pittsburgh that's where I would move. Good schools (I think), access to Oakland's museums and cultural centers (including CMU and Pitt), and access to Schenley Park are all big plusses, as are the great big houses that seem so cheep to my jaded-by-DC-real-estate eyes. Other good neighborhoods (as of four years ago) include Shadyside, South Side, and Highland Park (out towards the Zoo, not the East Liberty end).

Sagwalla's right about the suburbs having great schools, if you have the money to live if there, but also remember that you'll have to drive everywhere if you want to do lots of "urban" things. Keep in mind that Pittsburgh's version of "public transportation" is a little dicey: an unreliable (though enormous) bus system, with a teeny little "subway" downtown. Driving in Pittsburgh is not that big of a problem once you learn your way around the one-way streets and odd nooks and crannies.

I gather that the social dynamic city has changed somewhat in the last few years, so any advice you hear about how great or awful certain parts of the city are might be out of date. Go spend a week there and poke around the city. Try to get used to the Pittsburgh accent, which I was never quite able to do; that may sound like an odd suggestion, but wait until you're surrounded by "yinzers." Drive around in rush hour to get a feel for the place; as soon as you do you'll realize that if you work downtown (or in Oakland, the Strip, Bloomfield, etc) you most definitely do not want to have to cross a bridge or go through a tunnel to get home after work.

You can e-mail me if you would have questions (address in the profile), though I only lived there a few years and left about four years ago.
posted by arco at 2:43 PM on August 30, 2005

Just to go on a bit longer: I haven't lived there since the 1990s, but grew up there and visit often to see family, some of whom live in Squirrel Hill and some of whom live in the suburbs. From that vantage, I vote for living in the city. A lot of cities have terrible public school systems. Pittsburgh doesn't. And suburban Pittsburgh is a pretty damn provincial place in my view. If you want to live somewhere urbanesque in any way, they ain't it. (There are a few places that are outside of Pittsburgh proper that aren't this way, though -- Regent Square is one example.)

I think you would really enjoy the walkability of Squirrel Hill, or some of the other neighborhoods in the East End. Shadyside is a bit spendy and I'm not sure exactly which schools you wind up in when you live there, but the architecture is good and there's shopping. Oakland is a mixed bag, but there are places where you can easily walk into the part where the action is but still get your kids into schools you'd like; look for things that are on the Oakland-ish side of Squirrel Hill or Shadyside.

The South Side is also very appealing, but it's changed a fair amount since I was growing up and I'm not at all sure about the state of the schools. Back in the day they were crummy, but that may well have changed.

The bus system is more reliable for some areas than others. It serves the East End reliably, I've found, and my mother, who still lives there, uses it all the time. I like it! It's a hell of a lot better than, say, AC Transit.
posted by redfoxtail at 2:57 PM on August 30, 2005

I'm a current CMU student, and my girlfriend lives in Squirrel Hill, so I second the comments about it being a pleasant, family-friendly area. I didn't grow up here and I won't be raising kids here any time soon, but I do know the Oakland/Squirrel Hill/Shadyside area pretty well, so feel free to e-mail me with specific questions.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:44 PM on August 30, 2005

Assuming you both don't work, home schooling accompanied with proper social exposure to other young children is a far better bet than the typical urban scholastic experience.
posted by buzzman at 5:26 PM on August 30, 2005

I moved here from DC and I like the city neighborhoods. I just bought a house in Greenfield, and I lived for two years in Squirrel Hill. Most of Greenfield and all of Squirrel Hill is safe enough to walk around in at night. Highland Park is also a great neighborhood for families, but the public schools aren't as good in that neighborhood.

It is so crazily cheap to buy a house here; a four bedroom house in a great neighborhood won't even cost you $150,000. I made sure that the house I bought overlapped with the school zones for the best public schools (my realtor was very helpful) and even then my house was highly affordable.

From my research, the best elementary school is John C. Minadeo. Its district overlaps Greenfield and Squirrel Hill. There are also a lot of great private schools, but many are religiously oriented. There are also a few public magnet schools focusing on different languages. My boss sends her son to the French speaking one.
posted by Alison at 6:33 PM on August 30, 2005

I agree - Squirrel Hill is a great place to live if you can afford it. When it came time to buy a house my wife and I went one more neighborhood out to Regent Square. We lived half a block into Wilkinsburg, where I would recommend you not live if you have kids, but Pittsburgh was a block away, as was Swissvale and Edgewood - sort of a "four corners" neighborhood with Frick Park (Schenley Park's more attractive sister). We now live in Forest Hills, the next neighborhood out again, just spitting distance from the Woodland Hills High School, and that is apparently a good school system. But I wouldn't want to go any further away from the city.

Housing is indeed affordable, to the point where I worry that we'll never be able to afford living anywhere else.

(I've lived here for 25 years, if you count my years in college, and I would never move out of the east end. You can email me too if you want more info.)
posted by booth at 7:06 PM on August 30, 2005

Mt. Lebanon indeed has one of the best schools in the country, I graduated from there in 97 (I still live there, technically). Two bad things about it though: at least when I was attending school there, they had no bus system except for the special needs kids, and the area is huge. Second, way too many yuppies there, at least for my tastes, which really put a damper on my high school experience. YMMV.

The two good industries we have here are medical and banking/accounting. You might have some difficulty finding work if you aren't in those two fields.

I've never lived elsewhere in the city so I can't really speak for them, but from what I gather what was said about Oakland/South Side/Shadyside are true. The costs of living aren't bad at all compared to alot of other places, and Fiori's in Brookline has the best pizza on the planet hands down. Also, if you're a drinker, this is your town. Bars on practically every street.
posted by spungfoo at 9:45 PM on August 30, 2005

When I was searching for homes three years ago I came across a site that let you compare school districts in an area, with data on diversity, test performance, etc. Something like that might be useful, if I could ever find it again.
posted by craniac at 5:56 AM on August 31, 2005

school reports
posted by craniac at 6:00 AM on August 31, 2005

If money's an issue, take a look at Greenfield. It's served by the same schools as Squirrel Hill, and convenient to the same parks, but it's a good bit cheaper. The south end of Greenfield where it meets up with Hazelwood is a bit dicey, but the rest is a good solid neighborhood full of families.

Oakland is overrated. It's one of the city's more active neighborhoods, but it's a lousy place to raise a family. Mostly, it's a typical student ghetto — too expensive, run down, no proper grocery stores, and packed with vomiting teenagers every weekend. Anyway, Oakland's one of the easiest places in the city to reach by bus, especialy from points east, so you don't have to live there to benefit from it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:19 AM on August 31, 2005

Thanks for all the great information everyone! We are sorting through all of it and comparing notes. We'll definitely take you up on those offers to email with specific questions.
posted by misterioso at 1:15 PM on August 31, 2005

The Friendship area, (next to Shadyside) has a lot of young educated families in it and is not as expensive. Also not mentioned is Point Breeze, which is less centrally urban. I don't know how good the public schools are for these areas.

Oh, and one rule for that part of town is that everything north of Penn
Ave is so ghetto that pizza companies will not deliver there. (Except
the north part of Highland Park).
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:14 PM on August 31, 2005

Feel free to e-mail me also, I've lived in Pittsburgh for quite some time, in the city itself, and I have a "Great Things About Pittsburgh" thing sitting on my hard drive that I'd be glad to customize and send. I'd also recommend a strong look at Mt. Washington. It's very family friendly, the public schools are very good and it's close to everything with great transportation.

If you're set on suburbs, Brentwood is the up and comer in terms of housing costs, urban feel, transportation and accessibility, but only if you have no particular interest in diversity. (You can count minority students on your hands.) Greentree is also worth considering, but only if you work in a western suburb.
posted by Dreama at 5:21 PM on August 31, 2005

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