More and more frequently I open up my inbox to find emails from random moms reading: “I’m moving to Pittsburgh. Can you help me????” I do my best, but I don’t necessarily feel qualified to answer their questions. Universally they all want to know, “Which neighborhood should I move to?” and I just don’t know the answer to that question. As a resident of O’Hara Township on the border of Aspinwall, I certainly love my own little corner of Pittsburgh. But there are many different factors that impact an ideal neighborhood or suburb for each family. In order to more thoroughly answer this question, I present this 2015 Guide to Family-Friendly Pittsburgh Neighborhoods intended for families looking to relocate to (or within) our city.
But first, a word about my methods. I used several sources for the information presented in this article. 1) In order to identify qualifying neighborhoods, I conducted an informal poll on the Pittsburgh Mommy Page on Facebook. “What are the most family-friendly neighborhoods/suburbs of Pittsburgh? Why?” was the question. I received many, many responses, conducted email interviews to follow up with specific folks and summarized parental input in this article. 2) To understand the demographics of each neighborhood, I used PGHSNAP (for neighborhoods) and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission’s website (for suburbs) 3) For the purposes of comparison between schools, I used the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s PA School Performance Profiles based largely on test scores. However, I fully acknowledge that test scores do not give a full picture of a school and encourage you to check out A+ Schools to get a more complete understanding of the unique challenges and strengths of our various schools.
Choosing a Neighborhood
When I think of Pittsburgh’s geography, I generally break it down into Pittsburgh City Proper and the suburbs in the surrounding directions (Pittsburgh East, West, South and North). Depending on where you work, you might choose to look for a new home in any of these regions. If you’re a visual person, check here for a great map of the City of Pittsburgh and here for the entire Allegheny County. In the following sections, I give you profiles of specific neighborhoods/suburbs deemed “family-friendly” by other Pittsburgh parents.
City of Pittsburgh
I know a number of families who could never imagine moving outside the city’s limits. They enjoy the proximity to culture and commerce, the walkability, the access to public transportation, the diversity, etc. If you are one of these parents, you might need some help narrowing down the decision to one of our 90 different neighborhoods.
If you plan to stay within the city, you will also probably want to know about schools. The City of Pittsburgh has several types of schools including traditional neighborhood schools, magnet and partial magnet schools, charter schools and private schools. There are also parents who choose to homeschool or cyber school their kids. While children can automatically attend their assigned neighborhood schools, they also have the option of entering a lottery system for placement at the city’s free magnet schools. An increasing number of parents are electing to take their chances with this lottery. Also, there are a number of charter schools–particularly the Environmental Charter School–that are considered desirable.
The state Department of Education recently released its first academic performance scores for districts (contained in this article by Eleanor Chute at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and reflecting 2012-2013 data). The usefulness of these scores certainly has limitations (discussed further in the article linked above), but I believe they may still provide some perspective. In this study, the Pittsburgh Public Schools District ranked 35 out of the 43 school districts in Allegheny County. In the following sections, I will provide more detailed information about individual neighborhood schools. Also, please see this site for a listing of the city’s free magnet options.
After polling Pittsburgh parents, these 13 neighborhoods emerged as the most family-friendly.
The PPG Aquarium in Highland Park
Highland Park: Highland Park received the most number of votes (by far) for most family-friendly neighborhood in the city. The neighborhood has some obvious perks including wide, tree-lined streets; gorgeous architecture; the Bryant Street Business District with several great restaurants (Smiling Banana Leaf for Thai, Park Bruges for poutine and E2 for brunch); a neighborhood coffee shop; Highland Park with the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, a community pool with a large baby pool, the impressive Super Playground and a number of great wooded trails. Community members also noted neighborliness, pet-friendliness, the family events hosted by the Highland Park Community Council, the Highland Park list-serve and Facebook group, walkability, bikeability and accessibility to shopping at Target, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and other East Liberty destinations.
According to PGHSNAP, Highland Park has some unique features (when compared to the city of Pittsburgh as a whole) including higher median income, higher level of education, greater percentage of young children and a higher per capita park space. Also, a greater percentage of residents use public transportation or bike to work. Finally, the housing values have risen to a greater degree with a median home value of $167,400 in 2010.
In terms of schools, Highland Park children go to Fulton PreK-5 (a neighborhood school with French emphasis with an academic performance score of 65.1) and Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 (academic performance score of 46.2) in Homewood for middle and high school. The neighborhood also houses Dilworth PreK-5, a traditional magnet school with an emphasis on arts integration and humanities for all subject areas.
Morningside: Located adjacent to Highland Park, Morningside was also repeatedly mentioned as a family-friendly neighborhood most frequently for its affordability and location. With its quiet, flat, sidewalk-lined streets, Morningside certainly feels like a community where families could be comfortable. The neighborhood also boasts a small business district, a couple parks, a community council that plans family events and the same proximity to shopping in East Liberty. Community members also note that houses are not unreasonably large and it’s accessible to Oakland and Downtown via public transportation.
According to PGHSNAP, Morningside is a very different neighborhood than Highland Park with lower education levels, an income level closer to the average for Pittsburgh, less diversity and lower housing prices (median home value was $89,700 in 2010). Similarly to Highland Park, Morningside has a larger percentage of young children.
In terms of schools, Morningside children go to the Stanton Heights’ neighborhood school Sunnyside PreK-8 (academic performance score of 75.1 and was recently awarded STAR status for its significant improvement in recent years) for elementary and middle schools and Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12 (48.8 academic performance scale) in the Hill District for high school. St. Raphael’s Catholic school is another neighborhood option for K-8.
Located close to Morningside, Friendship was also mentioned a couple times as a family-friendly neighborhood. Considered by some as “up-and-coming” Friendship boasts walkability to shopping, access to public transportation and large, glorious homes (median home value was $167,300). Friendship’s neighborhood elementary school is Pittsburgh Woolslair PreK-5 (61.7 academic performance score) in Lawrenceville for elementary school, Pittsburgh Arsenal 6-8 in Lawrenceville for middle school and Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12 (48.8 academic performance score) in the Hill District for high school. Another neighborhood option is the magnet Pittsburgh Montessori preK-5 with its lottery system for entrance.
Also, Bloomfield (a historically Italian neighborhood) was mentioned once as a family-friendly neighborhood for its walkability, fantastic business district, family-friendly events, the Bloomfield Saturday Market, access to public transportation and location. Next year it will also house a partial STEAM magnet at its neighborhood Woolslair Elementary (61.7 academic performance score). Students go on to Pittsburgh Arsenal 6-8 in Lawrenceville for middle school and Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12 (48.8 academic performance score) in the Hill District for high school. Another neighborhood option is St. Maria Goretti Catholic school for grades preK-8.
Blue Slide Park in Squirrel Hill
Squirrel Hill: As a former resident of Squirrel Hill, I can personally vouch for the family-friendliness of this East End neighborhood. Squirrel Hill, the city’s most populous neighborhood, has some great perks for families who enjoy urban environments including walkability to the thriving business district, a community center, a Carnegie library, the Blue Slide Park in Frick Park and proximity to Schenley Park. Squirrel Hill is also conveniently located for trips throughout the city, but especially to Oakland with its universities and museums. Community members also noted the large Jewish community in the neighborhood with several synagogues. Finally, community members mentioned the range of school options available including public, private and religious ones. Several particularly noted that Squirrel Hill has some of the best public schools in the city.
PGHSNAP divides Squirrel Hill into two sections: Squirrel Hill North and Squirrel Hill South. Residents of both these neighborhoods are more educated with higher incomes than average in Pittsburgh. There is also greater diversity (thought significantly less African Americans) in these neighborhoods. Median home values range from $344,900 in North Squirrel Hill (closer to Shadyside) to $201,400 in South Squirrel Hill.
In terms of public neighborhood schools, Squirrel Hill children attend either Pittsburgh Colfax K-8 (79.7 academic performance score) or Pittsburgh Minadeo PreK-5 (66.4 academic performance score) for elementary school, Pittsburgh Sterrett 6-8 (82.5 academic performance score) for middle school (if they don’t stay at Colfax) and Pittsburgh Allderdice HS (69.2 academic performance score) for high school.
Close to Squirrel Hill, Greenfield was also mentioned once as a family-friendly neighborhood for its affordability. This neighborhood has relatively lower property values (median home value was $90,900 in 2010). Most Greenfield children go to Pittsburgh Greenfield preK-8 (academic performance score of 70.5) for elementary and middle schools and Allderdice for high school. In the Eastern regions, children go to Minadeo, Sterrett and Allderdice.
Point Breeze was also mentioned once for its walkability with easy access to Mellon Park and its spray park, Frick Art and Historical Center and shopping in East Liberty. Community members also noted the good private schools (Ellis, Shady Side Academy Junior School, Shady Lane Preschool), the Environmental Charter School and the neighborliness of residents. Of note, the median home value in 2010 was $240,300. Point Breeze children go to Minadeo or Colfax for elementary school, Pittsburgh Sterrett 6-8 for middle school and Allderdice for high school. Point Breeze is also the home of Pittsburgh Linden K-5, a Mandarin Chinese or German magnet school.
Playroom at the Wilkins School Community Center
Regent Square: Regent Square received quite a number of votes for family-friendliness. This eastern neighborhood contains a great business district, the Wilkins School Community Center, walkability to Frick Park with a playground and easy access to the Parkway. Though still urban, Regent Square feels quieter than Squirrel Hill and community members note, “the neighbors all know each other and look out for one another’s kids.” Of note, portions of Regent Square are in Pittsburgh City Proper, Edgewood, Swissvale and Wilkinsburg. This becomes an important factor when considering schools. Here’s a map to help you figure out which parts of Regent Square fall where.
According to PGHSNAP, the Pittsburgh city portion of Regent Square is more educated with higher incomes than the city as a whole with a median home value of $196,300 in 2010.
Children in the Pgh City portion of Regent Square go to Minadeo, Sterrett and Allderdice. Northeastern Regent Square goes to Wilkinsburg School District (rated last of all 43 school districts in the county) and southeastern Regent Square goes to Woodland Hills School District (rated 38 out of 43 school districts in the county).
Finally, nearby Swisshelm Park was noted as a quieter alternative to Regent Square or Squirrel Hill.
Tot activities at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
The Northside of Pittsburgh was also mentioned as a nice place to live for families. As the home of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the National Aviary, the Carnegie Science Center, PNC Park, the Deutschtown Business District, lots of park space and a quick trip over a bridge to Downtown and its Cultural District, families enjoy the walkability and location of the Northside. However, the “Northside” is actually composed of several varied neighborhoods with very different characteristics, including some that are far more residential and some that have larger commercial districts. Families mentioned one Northside neighborhood in particular: Brighton Heights.
Brighton Heights is a hilltop community located in Upper Northside mentioned for its affordability and location (close to Parkways North and West and Route 65). Unlike some other parts of Pittsburgh, the housing values (as of 2010) were decreasing with a median home value of $81,433. Brighton Heights children go to Pittsburgh Morrow PreK-8 (academic performance scale of 65.4) located in Brighton Heights for elementary and middle schools and Pittsburgh Perry High School (academic performance score of 45.1) in Perry North.
View from Mount Washington
Finally, moving South, Brookline was frequently mentioned as a nice place to raise a family. This southern neighborhood is strategically situated between the city and suburbs like Dormont and Mt. Lebanon that were also mentioned as family-friendly. With a thriving business district, several parks and access to public transportation, Brookline was noted to have the amenities of both an urban and more suburban location. Community members emphasized the friendliness of the neighborhood with lots of welcoming businesses and the Brookline Park Recreation Center.
According to PGHSNAP, Brookline’s median home value in 2010 was $82,150 with a slightly declining property value. There are tons of young children in this neighborhood.
Brookline children attend Pittsburgh West Liberty K-5 (academic performance score of 63.3) in Brookline for elementary school, Pittsburgh South Brooks 6-8 (academic performance score of 79.7) in Brookline for middle school and Pittsburgh Carrick HS (academic performance score of 51.7) in Carrick for high school. Brookline is also the home of the science, technology and writing magnet Pittsburgh Carmalt PreK-8.
The nearby Mount Washington was also mentioned once as a family-friendly neighborhood because of the “nice businesses,” two preschools and good elementary school. Mt. Washington children attend Pittsburgh Whittier K-5 (academic performance score of 62.8) in Mt. Washington for elementary school, Pittsburgh South Hills 6-8 (academic performance score of 72) in Beechview for middle school and Pittsburgh Brashear High school (academic performance score of 53.8) in Beechview for high school. Also, nearby Beechview was noted to be family-friendly because of its parks, neighborhood school, access to T, spray park and closeness to city pools and bath house. Beechview children attend Pittsburgh Beechwood PreK-5 (academic performance score of 66.8) in Beechview for elementary school, South Hills for middle school and Brashear for high school.
Since one reader asked me to create a visual, I put together the following table for easy comparisons:
Many families prefer to live in the surrounding suburbs of Pittsburgh for a variety of reasons. Some enjoy the larger yards with more room for kids to romp around. Some enjoy the small town feel. Others look at the academic performance scores for the county and see higher numbers in many suburban school districts.
There were three northern suburbs of Pittsburgh that received the most votes: Aspinwall, McCandless and Cranberry.
Aspinwall Riverfront Park
Aspinwall: As a resident of O’Hara Township on the border of Aspinwall, I can also vouch for the family-friendliness of this neighborhood. Located just over the Highland Park Bridge, it has wide, tree-lined streets, a walkable business district, parks (including the new Aspinwall Riverfront Park scheduled to have its grand opening this fall), lots of families and great community holiday events. Community members also noted proximity to the city (especially the Zoo) and Waterworks shopping center with its brand new Market District, a movie theater, TJ Maxx and Marshalls as perks. The area also has a relatively new library and will also have a new community center soon.
According to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Aspinwall has almost a 50/50 split between renter- and owner-occupied houses, but the median value of owner-occupied houses was $208,000 and its median family income was $94,000.
Aspinwall children attend the Fox Chapel Area School District which is ranked 17/43 school districts in the region. With a few exceptions, Aspinwall children attend O’Hara Elementary School (academic performance score of 81.8) in O’Hara Township, Dorseyville Middle School (academic performance score of 90.2) and Fox Chapel Area High School (academic performance score of 93.2).
Also mentioned in the Fox Chapel Area School District was O’Hara Township with its more suburban feel and slightly more expensive homes, Fox Chapel which is also suburban but with much higher housing prices (with a median home value of $524,000!) and Sharpsburg with more affordable homes (but more renters than owners), a walkable business district and nice community events.
McCandless (about 13 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh) was hugely popular in my recent survey with frequent mention of its school district, closeness to North Park, suburban feel and easy access to shopping, places of worship and farms. It was also noted that the Northland Public Library is wonderful with lots of family-friendly programming.
According to the Southwestern PA Commission, McCandless is more educated than Allegheny County in general with a median household income of about $104,000 and a median value of owner-occupied houses of $204,000.
Shenot Farms in Wexford
McCandless children go to the North Allegheny School District which is rated first out of the 43 school districts in Allegheny County. Bradford Woods, Franklin Park and Marshall Township areas also attend this school district. (I also discovered that much of this area is collectively known as “Wexford”). Of the elementary schools in the borough, Peebles has the highest academic performance score and McKnight has the lowest. Students then go on to Carson (academic performance score of 96.5) for middle school and North Allegheny Intermediate High School for grades 9-10 and North Allegheny Senior High School (academic performance score of 97.2) for the rest of high school. Check out this website to find which elementary school services which area.
Also mentioned were nearby Franklin Park with its Blueberry Park, which is also in the North Allegheny School District, but slightly more expensive. Other suburbs that were mentioned include Hampton (Hampton Township School District is 9/43) with its community center, pool and accessibility to North Park and Hartwood Acres; Ross with its own community center and closeness to McKnight Road shopping (North Hills School District is 15/43 in county) and Shaler with its award-winning Shaler North Hills Library, parks and Kiwanis/Crawford Pool (Shaler Area School District is 22/43).
Though located in Butler County, Cranberry was also repeatedly mentioned as a fabulous place to live. Located about 20 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh, the commute from Cranberry to the city is longer; however some residents choose the tradeoff for the suburb’s perks. Community members noted the wonderful library, the YMCA with its aquatics center, the relatively new Kids Castle playground, Graham Park, walking trails plus lots of businesses. Cranberry also could be considered more affordable with a median home value of $89,000.
Cranberry children attend the Seneca Valley School District which is repeatedly ranked highly (when compared to Allegheny County School districts it would probably rank within the top 15).
Here’s a table of the northern suburbs (excluding Cranberry since it’s not in Allegheny County).
In the southern suburbs, the undeniable winner for family-friendliness was Mount Lebanon. Community members noted the excellent schools, walkable business district, great community events, the Mt. Lebanon Public Library and the parks as perks.
According to Southwestern PA Commission, Mt. Lebanon has high education levels, a median family income level of $108,000 and a median house value of $211,000.
Mt. Lebanon children go to the Mt. Lebanon School District which is ranked 2/43 districts in the county. There are seven elementary schools in Mt. Lebanon (see here for a map of zones). Of these, Howe Elementary School has the highest academic performance score of 95.4 and Lincoln has the lowest with 85.5. Of the two middle schools, Mellon has a higher academic performance score of 92.2 vs. 86.4 and Mt. Lebanon High School has an academic performance score of 99.3.
Snapology in Bethel Park
In the so-called South Hills, parents also mentioned Upper St. Clair, which also has an excellent school district and is comparable in terms of home prices. Community members also noted its fantastic community center. Bethel Park (school district is 14/43), South Park (school district is 19/43) and Scott Township (school district is 13/43) were noted as being more affordable options in the same general vicinity.
If you’re looking for a more urban feel, Dormont was also noted as a nice place to raise a family. Dormont is a quick T ride to the city and is close to the shopping in Mt. Lebanon but with cheaper housing prices. Of note, Dormont children attend the Keystone Oaks School District, which is 27/43. Also Baldwin was noted to be a family-friendly neighborhood for its affordability, down-to-earth people, schools and the Baldwin Borough Public Library. Baldwin students attend the Baldwin-Whitehall School District ranked 18/43 school districts in the county.
I received a huge amount of response in support of Swissvale, a community bordering on the city neighborhood of Regent Square. While many residents noted they had been “skeptical” when they first moved to Swissvale, they were extremely satisfied with their choice now. “It’s a great community with a small town feel,” said one parent. Swissvale’s perks included affordability, closeness to the Waterfront, neighborhood block parties, access to public transportation and the Swissvale Moms Group on Facebook.
According to the Southwestern PA Commission, Swissvale real estate is almost a 50/50 split between owner and renter-occupied housing. Of owner-occupied housing, the median home value was $73,000. The median family income was $39,000 which falls below the County’s average.
Swissvale children attend the Woodland Hills School District which is 38/43 for county districts.
Riverside Park in Oakmont
The next runner-up in the eastern suburbs was Oakmont (about 13 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh) with its small-town feel, large walkable business district, community events, the Riverside Park, the library and its easy access to Boyce Park with skiing and tubing in the winter and hiking in the summer.
Oakmont is a relatively affluent borough with a median family income of $55,000 and a median home value of $170,000. Oakmont children go to Riverview School District which is 21/43 in the county. Of the borough’s two elementary schools, Tenth Street Elementary School has a better academic performance score than Verner.
Plum, a nearby suburb and about 20 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh, was also mentioned for its more suburban (even rural) feel. Plum’s median income is $66,000 and median home value is $136,000. Its children go to Plum Borough School District which is 10/43. Out of five elementary schools, Pivik has the highest academic performance score and Holiday Park has the lowest.
West Mifflin (about 11 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh) was noted to be family-friendly for its small town traditions and community park. West Mifflin’s median income was $47,500 and median home value was $85,500. The West Mifflin Area School District ranks 28/43. Finally, Braddock was mentioned once as an increasingly family-friendly place because of the energy of Mayor Fetterman and the variety of community events for children.
In the West, there was no clear winner however the following four communities were mentioned:
Robinson (about 10 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh) was noted for its extensive shopping at Robinson Town Centre (especially Ikea!), Settler’s Ridge and family fun at Latitude 360. The median household income was $75,000 and the median home value was $168,000. Robinson children go to Montour School District which is 6/43 in the county.
Nearby Moon (about 17 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh) has received a couple awards for its livability and was noted by community members for its school district, convenience to the airport and its proximity to Robert Morris University. Its median family income is $89,600 and its median home value is $178,200. Moon Township also has a highly-ranked school district at 4/43.
Sewickley (about 13 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh) was noted to have a nice downtown area, great community events and lots of families, but is more expensive with a median home value of $261,400. Its school district is Quaker Valley which is 5/43. A private school option is Sewickley Academy.
Finally Green Tree (southeast of Pittsburgh) was mentioned for its closeness to Downtown, its elementary school, library, public pool and nature center. Its median family income was $84,000 and median home value was $151,600. Green Tree children attend Keystone Oaks School District (27/43).
Post publication of this article, I received an email in support of Crafton located about 7 miles west of Downtown Pittsburgh. The email came from a Crafton mom, who praised the borough’s neighborliness, its walkability, its library, the newly renovated playground and the new community garden at Crafton Park.
Choosing a Neighborhood Part 2
I realize that this guide is very data-heavy. My goal was to consolidate a lot of information and links in one place so you can make an informed choice for your family based on your own personal preferences. But again, I want to emphasize that NUMBERS don’t say everything about a neighborhood, a suburb, its schools or its people. There are many “intangibles” that I could never hope to capture in this type of guide. Nevertheless, I hope it at least serves as a starting point for your further research. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or corrections. Also, I’m happy to add any communities that you think should be here!
Interested in learning more about city neighborhoods? Check out NEXTpittsburgh‘s neighborhood guides.