Pittsburgh North Shore Neighborhood

#10 North Shore

Pittsburgh’s Best Neighborhoods

North Shore Neighborhood Location Map Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh’s North Shore is located right across the Allegheny River from Downtown.

North Shore Neighborhood Description

Better get hydrated, because it’s party time on the North Shore. You’re sure to have the DTs after a gameday Sunday carousing from bar to bar, attending the game, puking into a garbage can on the mezzanine of Acrisure Stadium, almost getting into a fight with the Cincinnati fan behind you, then staggering into an Uber for the 45 minute ride home whereby you conclude silence is the better part of valor. And, good news, you gotta’ get up and go to work at 6:30 AM. Just another autumn Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh’s North Shore is a party neighborhood, indeed, and it was built to be one. In the late 1990s into the 2000s, both the baseball field and the football field were built just across from downtown. By then, successful urban stadium development models were well established courtesy of places like Coor’s Field in Denver and Safeco Field in Seattle.

Football stadiums, unto themselves, aren’t great anchors to stimulate neighborhood activity. There’re only eight or nine homes games, everybody tailgates, and then they drive home half drunk. Sure, local joints feel the boost, but it’s not enough to carry the year. Baseball stadiums, however, are excellent activity anchors because there are 81 home games – a quarter of a year. Taken together, between football and baseball, we have ourselves a winner. We have ourselves the North Shore.

The urban design dynamic of the North Shore is wholly oriented toward partying and enabling a drunken pedestrian to stagger from bar to bar. Outdoor seating abounds. Pedestrian only spaces abound. Walkability abounds. You’re either taking shots of Jamison on your way to a Bucs game, or on your way to a Steelers game. Wherever you’re going, the urban design of the North Shore will enable your journey. God speed.

Neighborhood Ranking Criteria

A Front Door

For the most part, the bridges into the North Shore are the neighborhood’s front door. There are no formal gateways announcing your entrance, which is perhaps an opportunity for improvement. Nevertheless, when you arrive on the North Shore, you know it.

An Identifiable Center

North Shore Party Space
The North Shore was designed for revelry. On game days, it’s a wild rumpus.

The center of the North Shore is not either stadium. The center of the North Shore is North Shore Drive, whereby all the party bars are located.

Boundaries

Fishing on the Allegheny River Pittsburgh
The Allegheny River is a boundary that provides all sorts of recreational opportunities on the North Shore.

This one is easy, there’s a river to the south and a freeway to the north. Both cut the immediate North Shore off from the rest of what locals call the North Side.

Density

Stadium Parking Lot Steelers Pittsburgh
The only argument I can make for the virtue of surface parking lots is they make for a great place to carouse prior to gametime, such as this one next to Steelers stadium.

The North Shore was made for pedestrians first, and parking second. It’s tough to find a parking spot on Steelers gameday. Many park downtown and wander across a bridge to get to the game. Bucs’ gameday is much simpler to find a spot. Despite the image above, the North Shore does a good job of hiding the vast amounts of parking needed to accommodate two stadiums within a mile of each other.

Detached Sidewalks and Street Trees

Tree lined Allegheny Trail on the North Shore of Pittsburgh.
The North Shore has tree lined streets and tree lined trails, like this section with riverfront condos on the left.

The pedestrian space in the North Shore was designed for the non-vehicular masses. The sidewalks are wide. There are tons of street trees, and the difference between the street and ped space is well defined.

Diverse Architecture and Buildings That Address the Street

North Shore Street Pittsburgh
Even on a quiet, non-gameday Sunday morning, there is always time for a mimosa on the North Shore.

The architecture in the neighborhood is, for the most part, uninspiring. Being a redeveloped neighborhood, the contemporary built environment is your typically affordable construction grade cinderblock boxes with tinted windows and bland finishes. There are, however, plenty of role-up doors that openly connect indoor and outdoor spaces, as well as plenty of outdoor seating to take in the crowds. Therefore, the buildings connect well with the street but the architecture could use improvement.

Mixed Land Uses

Heinz Lofts Pittsburgh
The old Heinz manufacturing facility has been converted to hipster apartments. It also anchors the northwest end of the North Shore.

There are few owner occupied units on the North Shore — a factor ripe for improvement. At the bottom of this post is a map of the North Shore that automatically generates properties for sale; to date, I have yet to see a residential unit go on the market. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of rentals on the easterly end of the North Shore (Heinz Lofts, image above), as well as a condominium building. Additionally, a new 108 unit apartment complex located between the stadiums is slated to open in early 2024. Notably, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette writes, “The opening and leasing of North Shore Flats will likely serve as a gauge to see how much demand there is for residential living in a restaurant and entertainment district between two major sports venues.” Thus, the apartment market is firmly dipping its toes into the North Shore, next on tap, assuming profitability of the former, is condominium units. It should also be noted that the main office of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette is in the North Shore neighborhood.

Street Energy

Once again, is it gameday? Throngs upon throngs of people rush the North Shore on gameday. Between tailgating and barhopping, all streets on the North Shore burst with energy. Between gamedays, the evening street energy is still active. During the day, you’ll find plenty of locals and tourists along the river trail enjoying the amenities – riverboats, individual boats, fountains that kids can play in, fishing, running, biking, and simply enjoying the view.

Streets That Generally Connect

The North Shore is a hemmed in neighborhood. There are only a few streets within it. Thankfully, they all connect.

Transit Access

Transit access is another category where the North Shore scores well. Light rail serves the neighborhood and provides easy access to downtown and points south bound.

Walkability

North Shore Pittsburgh
This is top shelf urban space. It’s not quite a street, and it’s not quite a trail, but it’s definitely well planned pedestrian space — great for outdoor seating and to traverse between bars on the North Shore.

Walkability ties all of the above ingredients together. The North Shore was built for walking. Planners have done an excellent job of striking a balance between parking availability and walkability. The North Shore is a model of how to build a stadium district the right way.

Opportunities for Improvement

The North Shore is a 21st century stadium neighborhood. Stadiums as a means of neighborhood revitalization is a model that is now well worn but ever adapting. The redevelopment dynamic of Pittsburgh’s North Shore should be taught in urban planning classrooms as a success story across the nation. Continuing to construct truly mixed-use buildings is the clearest opportunity for improvement on the North Shore. Assuming willing ownership, there appears to be ample space to provide for new development, so such a conversation is both about infill and continuing the redevelopment process. There are also numerous underutilized grassy strips along the Allegheny River. All things being equal, that’s beach front property. Why not look for development interests?

Passed the big I-279 underpass, the eastern end of the North Shore is a bit of a no-man’s land. The neighborhood feeling becomes far more industrial and vacant lots abound. Underutilized beach front property adjacent to downtown isn’t a great look. All things being equal, the potential for redevelopment east of I-279 is obvious.

Finally, as is the case in stadium districts around the world, parking, parking, parking is the omnipresent challenge. Both scholarship and practice has shown that it’s a bad idea to provide all the parking a stadium requires adjacent to the stadium. It’s bad practice because the goal is to stimulate activity, not create an island surrounded by parking. People that park several blocks away or across the river in downtown forces them to walk to the stadiums, perhaps grab a cocktail or a slice of pizza along the way, and therefore stimulates street energy and commerce. If the infill process were to continue for the North Shore, at some point another parking garage will need to be considered. Given the quality of the North Shore neighborhood from a planning perspective, I suspect city hall is well ahead of such considerations.