Oakland Neighborhood Forbes Street Pittsburgh

#13 Oakland Neighborhood

Pittsburgh’s Best Neighborhoods

Oakland Neighborhood Map Pittsburgh
Oakland is located directly east of downtown Pittsburgh.

Oakland Neighborhood Description

Oakland is Pittsburgh’s most congested university neighborhood. Anchored by the University of Pittsburgh (enrollment » 35,000), Carnegie Mellon University (enrollment » 15,000), and Carlow University (enrollment » 2,300), it all adds up to youthful energy in a dense urban environment. Next to downtown Pittsburgh, the Oakland neighborhood has the metro’s tallest buildings. Unlike downtown, however, Oakland has far more street energy and a more lively dynamic than what is presently a mostly 9:00 to 5:00 downtown.

Oakland can be carved in two. Split by Forbes Avenue, south Oakland is notorious for being the student-centric part of the neighborhood while, at least on a per capita basis, professor types and polite society can be found in north Oakland. Despite the distinction, students and pubs and poetry readings and misfits and all the fun, dynamic, ever changing college vibes dominate the whole of Oakland.

As far as big city university districts go – the college town within the big city – Oakland competes. The neighborhood can go head-to-head with the U-District in Seattle, West Campus in Austin, “The” U-District in Columbus, the dorks in Cambridge, the babes in LA’s University Park, and the punk rockers in Greenwich Village. Oakland more than makes the list; to the contrary, it’s the comparable all others measure themselves against.

Neighborhood Ranking Criteria

A Front Door

There are a lot of different ways into and out of Oakland. Although you know it when you’re in it, the neighborhood does not have any formal gateways aside from the hills and Pittsburgh terrain that it’s tucked within.

An Identifiable Center

Oakland Cathedral of Learning Pittsburgh
Oakland’s Cathedral of Learning is tall.

The Cathedral of Learning is a Pittsburgh landmark. It’s the 535 feet tall (42 story) sentinel that serves as Oakland’s beacon to the rest of the metro.


Oakland’s boundaries are the hills that surround the neighborhood, but it’s generally just east of downtown below Polish Hill on one side and Squirrel Hill on the other, with the large expanse of Schenley Park wedged between.


Oakland Pittsburgh Dorms
These three architectural monstrosities define Oakland’s dorm life, as well as its skyline.

About 52,000 students create a need for lots of housing, and that housing mostly takes the form of multi-story dorm complexes and apartments. So, how’s the density in Oakland? It’s the densest neighborhood in a city full of dense neighborhoods.

Detached Sidewalks and Street Trees

Oakland Pittsburgh Neighborhood Residential Housing
Where are the street trees? And how long before those recycling bins are full of IC Light bottles?

North Oakland is the greener side of the neighborhood with tree lined streets and detached sidewalks dispersed among the elbow patch, tobacco pipe smoking homes that define the area. South Oakland is dense with housing and narrow streets, so there are far less detached sidewalks. There are streets with trees and there are streets without trees throughout Oakland. Generally, the snobs in north Oakland have the privilege of enjoying more tree-lined streets than the misfits in south Oakland.

Diverse Architecture and Buildings That Address the Street

Oakland Pittsburgh Residential Duplexes
In most residential sections of the neighborhood, duplexes and townhomes are street facing and built right up to the sidewalks.

The architecture of three college campuses, the typical row houses of Pittsburgh, and the ornate upper income homes of North Oakland translates to an architectural range of mill-worker to Greek/Roman to Victorian to modernist. Although the City of Pittsburgh divides Oakland into three parts (north, central, and south). Taken as a whole, Oakland is Pittsburgh’s largest, most densely populated neighborhood (at least during the school year) that best represents the broadest spectrum of Pittsburgh architecture and the motivations that drive design decisions. Even many of the campus buildings orient toward the streetscape, rather than traditional rolling campus greens.

Mixed Land Uses

Oakland Pittsburgh Neighborhood
Commercial uses seamlessly blend into institutional uses throughout Oakland.

Dorms, houses, lofts, apartments, and mansions are well integrated into commercial and institutional uses within the neighborhood. One can quite easily live in Oakland without a car (as many do) and walk to fulfill day-to-day needs.

Street Energy

Oakland Pittsburgh Schenley Plaza
Schenley Plaza is the place to be seen in central Oakland. It’s also fun to get drunk there.

The throbbing, pulsating mass of student energy roams wild all over Oakland. The neighborhood’s street energy is an expected by-product of being a student center.

Streets That Generally Connect

Due to Pittsburgh’s hilly terrain, there are only a few main thoroughfares into and out of Oakland. Once you’re in the neighborhood, however, a tightly knit grid street system dominates.

Transit Access

Pittsburgh Regional Transit is in the throes of constructing a $291 million bus rapid transit line between downtown and Oakland, otherwise known as the University Line. Bus rapid transit systems are best characterized as an affordable compromise between light rail and a traditional shared street bus route system. It’s fair to say a $291 million investment in transit will improve mobility for those residing in the neighborhood.


Oakland Dorm Plaza Pittsburgh
This open plaza between dorm halls creates a great pedestrian only space in the neighborhood.

There are campus neighborhoods and college towns located throughout the country that don’t lend themselves well to walkability. Oakland is not one of them. Commercial, residential, and institutional land uses blend to near perfection throughout the neighborhood.

Opportunities for Improvement  

There’s not a lot to criticize about Oakland. The neighborhood needs a few good front doors and more street trees — both affordable and easy to attain improvements. Housing availability and housing quality are persistent challenges for the neighborhood as enrollment rises and the students leave rentals in varying states of disrepair, but such complaints come with the territory. As it stands, Oakland is one of the nation’s premier college neighborhoods that executes livability to near perfection. If you like high energy, walkable neighborhoods with lots of younger students, Oakland is for you.