Pittsburgh Hill District Neighborhood

#31 Hill District

Pittsburgh’s Best Neighborhoods

Pittsburgh Hill District Neighborhood Location Map
It’s a short walk to downtown from the Hill District.

Hill District Neighborhood Description

Pittsburgh Hill District Neighborhood August Wilson House
The August Wilson House is one of several cultural centers in the Hill District.

The Hill District is one of Pittsburgh’s cornerstone neighborhoods. Located on the nearest hill that rises from downtown, its prime central location has influenced Pittsburgh for generations. Although largescale investments are at its doorstep, such as the hockey arena entertainment complex and the redevelopment of an old trade school into the Energy Innovation Center, the Hill District still suffers from high vacancy rates. The neighborhood’s landscape tells a story of demolition. Swaths of large, grassy parcels are as dominant as the historic townhomes that have survived. Plenty of the dreaded blue city demolition notices hang upon boarded up front doors on buildings now in the pipeline to meet the bulldozer. Walking the neighborhood, its quite apparent that at its peak the streets were energetic and built out. Now, the sticky question that faces community leaders is how to redevelop the Hill District without triggering wholesale gentrification. The best place to start is with community residents by stimulating market activities that they expressly want. Two great examples are the recent opening of a larger grocery store, and the redevelopment plans for New Grenada Square anchored by the historic Granada Theatre. Local economic development is the art of filling gaps in the market. Choosing what gaps to fill and prioritizing them ought to be left to neighborhood residents and voiced by community leaders. Simultaneously, large scale investments along the neighborhood’s downtown edge are bound to attract more market attention. The creep of large-scale property acquisitions and market activities less influenced by local residents is the larger game that demands Hill District community leadership’s participation.

Neighborhood Ranking Criteria

A Front Door

If gateways into the Hill District exist, they didn’t work for me because I missed them.

An Identifiable Center

Pittsburgh Hill District Neighborhood Vacant Properties
Rowes of townhomes on one side, vacant parcels on the other.

Centre Avenue is an active center, but it lies on the edge of the neighborhood. Webster Avenue traverses the length of the Hill District and better represents the heart of the neighborhood.

Boundaries

Being located on a hilltop, the Hill District’s boundaries are steep slopes on all sides.

Density

Pittsburgh Hill District Neighborhood Historic Townhomes
Townhomes are more uniform and intact the nearer one is to downtown.

The Hill District was once a dense, built-out neighborhood. Today, it’s a neighborhood in need of a robust infill campaign, be it parks and public space or new development.  

Detached Sidewalks and Street Trees

Pittsburgh Hill District Neighborhood Street Trees
That’s a proper tree lined street.
Pittsburgh Hill District Neighborhood New Housings
They’re doing new construction right in the Hill District. These townhomes fit the neighborhood well. I’m also not complaining about the detached sidewalk and street trees.

Redeveloped sections of the Hill District do well for street trees and detached sidewalks, the remainder of the neighborhood is tired and needs investment.

Diverse Architecture and Buildings That Address the Street

Pittsburgh Hill District Neighborhood Small Townhomes
Islands of small townhomes dot the Hill District.

Structures in the Hill District are predominantly townhomes and mixed-use commercial. Development throughout the neighborhood has done a  good job of maintaining the historic development pattern.  

Mixed Land Uses

Pittsburgh Hill District Neighborhood Center
The Hill District does well mixing land uses.

With the exception of the side streets, primary thoroughfares appear to provide for mixed land uses throughout the Hill District.

Street Energy

The Hill District has a surprising amount of street energy, more so than many other Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

Streets That Generally Connect

Streets in the neighborhood are generally designed into a grid and they all connect.

Transit Access

Just regular old buses serve the Hill District. The Hill District strikes me as a neighborhood that could use a trolley into downtown, and I’m not talking about a bus that looks like a trolley, I’m talking about a trolley on tracks.

Walkability

The neighborhood is walkable if you remain on top of the hill because it’s quite the walk back up if you choose to walk down to one of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Opportunities for Improvement

Pittsburgh Hill District Neighborhood Townhouses
The Hill District needs more investment.

Abandoned properties, vacancies, and infill are the Hill District’s most pressing challenges. If programs are highly functioning, stimulating local small businesses by providing entrepreneurs with low-rent space will help fill vacancies and juice start-ups. No one likes seeing historic structures meet the bulldozer, but there comes a point where a building simply can’t be saved and it’s better to demolish it. Thus, blight is fairly simple to manage and generally affordable. It’s the infill and redevelopment, however, that needs a broader scope of public/private partnerships. Ultimately, the largest challenge for redeveloping a neighborhood is whether a market exists (tenants) that can fill the space. Obviously, the high number of vacant buildings (both residential and commercial) throughout the Hill District suggests the market for buyers and tenants is weak. Seeking anchor tenants that can drive activity and support a broader redevelopment effort is a good place to start. The redevelopment of the old Granada Theatre and the new Energy Innovation Center are two high profile anchors that can be leveraged into increased market activity.