Your input is essential to the planning process. Staff and the Steering Committee will use your input to start developing parts of the Oakland Plan.
- Input on this page and other topic-based pages (i.e., Community, Development, Mobility, and Infrastructure) will be used to develop goals for the plan specific to those topics. This goal language will become part of the plan, but will also be used to guide the proposals developed in the Action Teams in the year ahead.
Learn more about opportunities to be involved on the homepage.
Action Teams are comprised of residents, students, employees, property owners, agencies, and professionals interested in working to develop projects and programs for the neighborhood plan. They are an opportunity for building partnerships while developing feasible action items for the plan.
The Development Action Team develops the agenda for physical change to a district whether that be through new buildings, commercial corridors, residential areas, etc. This includes proposals for new affordable housing and commercial opportunities.
Learn more about Action Teams and how to join them using the bottom on the right of this page.
View of South Oakland with the Cathedral of Learning in the background. The Development Action Team focuses on providing more affordable housing, overcoming economic inequities, and making parts of the neighborhood more healthy and sustainable, in addition to many other topics.
Oakland is an important place for residents, students, and employees, but it’s also an important destination for the broader Pittsburgh region. This planning process will address the needs of these different groups and create opportunities for Oakland’s future that benefit all members of the community.
For decades, many residents have felt overpowered and overwhelmed by the growth of institutions in the area, which has resulted in conflicts between residents, community organizations, and development interests. In research of existing conditions in Oakland, interviews showed that developers feel Oakland need bold ideas, investment, and a censensus about the future to discover Oakland's full development potential and grow the Pittsburgh economy.
A neighborhood plan allows the community to proactively work together to identify the kinds of new development that are desired and work with public agencies to create policy and regulations that will allow this kind of activity. This is also an opportunity for the community to tell developers what they want and attract those projects to the neighborhood. It’s important to note that allowing something to happen doesn’t mean it will, because there may not be a demand, location, or funding available.
Read below to learn more and participate in activities to set goals for Development in Oakland.
New development is guided by a combination of forces. Although there are many powerful examples in Pittsburgh of affordable housing and other kinds of community-oriented developments, the demand for space and real estate market drive the types of buildings that are likely to be built by private investment. Financial institutions loan money to developers for new buildings and add their own requirements that seek to reduce their risk in the project based on national trends. What is allowed to be built in an area is regulated by the City’s Zoning Code and approvals made by City of Pittsburgh departments, boards, and commissions. This is where you come in.
What can new development provide for Oakland?
Flats on Forward and the adjacent Krause Commons in Squirrel Hill provide ground floor retail, affordable housing units, open space, and office space. Image courtesy of ACTION Housing.
New buildings or the redevelopment of existing buildings can provide many things that communities find highly desirable, but it’s important for communities to be very specific about what their priorities are.
The types of buildings that can be built is often related to the kinds of community amenities they can provide.
Large office buildings tend to be located on streets with good bus access. They often provide shops and plazas at street level. Affordable housing is often in mid-rise buildings, although it can be part of large buildings too. Zoning affects what kinds of buildings can be built and where, which in turn affects where these amenities are created.
A combination of regulations in the Zoning Code and policies in plans set the stage for what development can happen.
For two decades, Oakland has had a unique set of regulations called the Oakland Public Realm District (OPR) in the City's Zoning Code. The regulations for new development on the Fifth and Forbes Avenue corridor requires that buildings have windows and openings onto the street to create a more engaging environment. Height is limited to 85 ft, below that of the tallest buildings, but these limits can be exceeded to match the height of adjacent buildings. Similarly sized buildings are allowed along much of the Boulevard of the Allies and along Craig Street. Although buildings in other parts of Pittsburgh including Uptown and the riverfront areas can earn "bonus" height by meeting certain community developed standards, this bonus system has not yet been added to Oakland.
Other than the areas in the OPR, Oakland's land is either dedicated to single-family zoning or Educational and Medical Institution (EMI) zoning which covers University of Pittsburgh, UPMC, Carlow Univerity, and CMU campus areas. In these areas, Institutional Master Plans must be approved to establish what projects are possible and the nature of those buildings.
In 2012, the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation led a process to create a community plan called the Oakland 2025 Plan to establish a vision for the growth and improvement of Oakland over the next decade 10 years. Since that time, the plan led to a host of programs and projects created both by OPDC as well as other community organizations and institutional partners. This planning process will build on the work of the Oakland 2025 Plan, find ways to implement those remaining tasks from that plan, and establish a new generation of projects and programs for the next 10 years.
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (UN World Commission on Environment and Development).
Urban design is the process of intentionally shaping the physical features of a place. At the neighborhood-scale, it takes into consideration the design of buildings and how they are experienced at the street along with the design of the street and adjacent open spaces like plazas and parks.
Pittsburgh’s Neighborhood Plan Guide integrates these two topics to maximize the benefits to our communities. Buildings and streets can be designed together to create more comfortable, healthy places for people and other animal, while reducing heating, cooling, and water costs.
Making our neighborhoods more sustainable is essential to Pittsburgh meeting its 2030 goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Adopted 2030 goals from the City of Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan 3.0.
Integrating sustainability into the design of the neighborhood is a key part of meeting the City’s 2030 goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use. Policies set across the entire city must be implemented locally in ways that fit the context and opportunities of each neighborhood. Sustainable practices for buildings, infrastructure, and open spaces make the best possible use of resources. Energy and water efficient buildings are cheaper to heat and cool and better for those using the buildings every day.
Green buildings are an important part of creating a more sustainable Oakland.
The Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is the first and only building to meet five of the highest green building standards.
The Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the University of Pittsburgh’s Sustainability Plan, and commitments from building owners to participate in the Pittsburgh 2030 District are all examples of your community’s commitment to sustainability. However, Oakland is home to medical and research facilities that have very high demands for electricity and water and more of these buildings are planned. Oakland’s homes are historic and require upgrades to reduce the burdens of heating and cooling costs. Making Oakland’s buildings more sustainable and healthier is an important goal for everyone.
The design of streets and open space must be a part of a more sustainable and healthy future.
Urban sustainable design is also about the streets and open spaces in a neighborhood. How streets and parks are designed determines whether they are comfortable places to walk and play in throughout the year. These spaces can also be designed to manage rain from storms and provide habitat for birds and pollinators. The presence of tree canopy can reduce the cooling costs of homes during hot summer months and heating costs in the winter. Providing trees and other green infrastructure will require us to make careful use of our streets and ensure new development makes room for them as well. Creating more equitable communities means that every part of the neighborhood should be comfortable, healthy, and sustainable.
Oakland's tree canopy could be greatly improved
Urban sustainable design is about more than buildings. Trees provide many benefits including cooling streets and adjacent buildings during hot summer months, treating rainwater, cleaning the air, and providing habitat for birds and pollinators. Creating more equitable communities means that every part of the neighborhood should be comfortable, healthy, and sustainable. Every part of Oakland deserves the benefits of trees.
Learn more about tree canopy, rainwater management, and energy on the Infrastructure page.
Throughout our nation’s history, policies and practices have purposefully discriminated against citizens based on their gender and race, and purposeful efforts will be needed to overcome this problem. The Neighborhood Plan Guide calls on public and private partners to pursue economic development with the goal of creating opportunities and programs designed to overcome inequities.
Oakland is one of the most important economic centers in Pennsylvania.
Oakland is a regional jobs center for Western Pennsylvania with people traveling for miles to work here every day. The educational and medical institutions and businesses in Oakland employ 57,700 Pittsburghers. In 2017, over a third of Pittsburgh’s health care and social assistance jobs and two thirds of the city’s educational services jobs were located in Oakland. According to the Brookings Institute, a third of all research and development activities in Pennsylvania take place in Oakland. This research leads to the creation of patents, new businesses, and new jobs. Oakland also has a quarter of the city’s corporate offices, banks, and holding companies. Hotels and restaurants have been an important and growing part of the jobs market.
Most of Pittsburgh’s growth from 2000-2010 happened in Oakland and in the last decade it has spilled out into other areas of the city.
The newest phase of Bakery Square in the Larimar and Shadyside neighborhoods includes a new building for Philips Sleep and Respiratory Care. Image courtesy of Walnut Capital.
Between 2002 and 2010, ~13,500 jobs were added in Oakland, nearly all city’s job growth during the period. In the last decade, Oakland’s job growth slowed at the same time that Lawrenceville and South Side Flats saw consistent growth. Bakery Square in the nearby Point Breeze and Larimar neighborhoods started as an adaptive reuse project that provided offices for Google and other tech companies many of which had their initial office spaces in Oakland. Now life sciences companies, attracted by activities in Oakland are also finding a home there. Similar innovation neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Cambridge (MA), and Atlanta all have more jobs by area suggesting even more businesses could be accommodated in Oakland. More companies want to be located in Oakland than there is space for currently. The planning process offers the opportunity to proactively set the conditions of new development in terms of the buildings and the jobs in them.
Oakland’s workforce is diverse, but some people have been left out of this economic growth.
Employees, students, and residents at a bus stop in Oakland.
Compared to other employment districts in the city, Oakland’s workforce is diverse. Approximately 60% of Oakland’s employees are women, 6% are Asian, and 11.4% are Black or African-American. The universities and hospitals draw in talent from over 100 nations, making Oakland a global community.
However, Oakland’s employment opportunities are not available to everyone. Compared to similar innovation neighborhoods across the nation, Oakland provides fewer jobs for those without a bachelor’s degree or higher levels of education. Oakland is missing a variety of jobs that allow people to develop professionally through work experience and move up into roles of increasing responsibility and pay.
The Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC), UPMC, and the University of Pittsburgh all have programs that focus on workforce development and finding ways for people to access careers in science, medicine, and technology. OPDC’s School 2 Career youth program prepares at-risk youth for college success. The University Talent Alliance was launched by a consortium of Oakland institutions and community organizations to connect economically disadvantaged populations in neighborhoods around the Fifth and Forbes Avenue corridor with job opportunities. Much more work is needed to ensure that the promise of Oakland’s economic growth is available to everyone.
Some of those working Oakland’s lowest paying jobs are traveling the furthest to get to work each day.
Oakland is a regional center, so it's not surprising that workers travel here from throughout Western Pennsylvania every day. However, the data above shows that those with the lowest incomes are traveling the furthest and often from communities that are poorly served by public transit. There are many reasons that this may be happening, but it seems likely that the known shortage of affordable housing in Pittsburgh is partly to blame. Creating new affordable housing in Oakland and the surrounding areas will allow some to walk, bike, or take transit to work, while improving Oakland's transit connections to the rest of the region can reduce travel costs for others.
How can we make sure Oakland’s economic future is available to everyone?
You could talk about the issues you’ve faced in trying to find work in Oakland or share your ideas for new workforce programs, employers, industries, etc.
Housing in a complex issue. People choose housing based on many different factors ranging from proximity to transit and businesses, to affordability and the sense of community. What's considered affordable depends on many factors including a households income and transportation costs. From studio apartments in high-rise buildings to single-family homes, Oakland has every type of housing unit, and all of these markets have been shaped by student housing needs.
Oakland was historically a diverse residential community but has seen a steady and significant loss of homeownership and an increase in student rentals. Today, fewer than one-third of Oakland’s housing units are occupied by homeowners. Housing was an important part of the Oakland 2025 Plan created by the community in 2012 and are still very relevant today.
Oakland 2025 Plan housing recommendations:
- Diversify and stabilize Oakland's housing
- Address student rentals
- Create new green infill
- Development/maintain affordable workforce housing
- Provide professional live/work opportunities
- Rehabilitate and preserve existing homes
- Implement employer assisted programs, rehabilitation design and funding assistance
- Development retirement living options
Opportunities for owner-occupied housing in Oakland are limited.
Higher levels of homeownership exist in Oakland but are largely concentrated in pockets of North Oakland as part of the Schenley Farms neighborhood and in the area bound by Bellefield Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Neville Street, and Bayard Street where there are a number of large condominium buildings. There are slightly higher rates of homeownership in West and South Oakland than in Central Oakland.
Rental housing is very dense, very expensive, and in many cases in poor condition.
At the February Oakland Plan Steering Committee meeting, student representatives reported very poor living conditions in Central Oakland’s rental units including mold, flooding, doors that don’t lock, and a general state of disrepair. This condition is unlikely to change while there is demand from the student rental market, however, in the last five years large amounts of new apartments have been built along Fifth and Forbes Avenues and Craig Street.
The University of Pittsburgh has included new student housing in its proposed Institutional Master Plan. This provides students with choices and creates competition for landlords. The result could be improvements to existing rentals or new kinds of development.
At the April Steering Committee meeting, OPDC presented data about the rental and for sale housing markets in Oakland including that 76% of Oakland’s rental population spends more than 30% of their income on rent suggesting housing is unaffordable for most Oakland residents. OPDC keeps waitlists for affordable units at Parkview Manor (15 units) and Oakland Affordable Living (49 units), and there are over 360 people on their waitlists for these 64 units. A substantial increase in the number of affordable rental units is needed.
The COVID-19 pandemic will also impact these conditions in ways that will become clearer during this planning process.
Homeownership has many important benefits for a community.
Homeownership is not just about owning a house. For many, their home is an important way to accumulate wealth that they'll need for their retirement or if they have a costly life event. For a decade, studies have shown that people continue to view homeownership as part of the American Dream but is available to fewer and fewer people. Homeownership has traditionally also been linked with longer-term residency and more civic engagement in one's community. The longer people live in a place the more the tend to get involved in improving the community and establishing social networks with neighbors. Healthy communities provide a diversity of housing types and genuine options available to everyone.
Affordable options for home ownership have been very limited.
The student rental market has shaped housing in Oakland for decades. Many of the children who grew up in Oakland are now landlords renting their childhood homes to students. Investors have converted a significant portion of Oakland’s homes to rentals, increasing their value substantially. Central Oakland homes are 11% more expensive to purchase than the average price in Oakland likely due to their proximity to the University of Pittsburgh. West Oakland homes cost 23% less than homes in the rest of Oakland. North Oakland’s home costs are in the middle. This may suggest that the condominium-style home prevalent in North Oakland is an effective way to get larger numbers of lower cost homes in other parts of Oakland.
Many past plans for Oakland, including the Oakland 2025 Plan, called for an increase in owner-occupied housing. OPDC’s Community Land Trust is working to provide affordable homes for sale. There have also been discussions with Oakland-based institutions to provide financial incentives for its employees to live in the neighborhood. Moving forward, a combination of community-based programs, public subsidies, and private market actions will be needed to overcome the significant shortage of affordable homeowner opportunities in Oakland.
Housing density and owner-occupancy
North Oakland's many condominiums show that density and ownership can be connected in Oakland. This may suggest that condominium buildings could be a solution for other parts of Oakland if ownership and affordability are prioritized.
Would you support the construction of new apartment and condominium buildings in Oakland if they included affordable rental and home ownership options?
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Where do you think these new buildings with affordable units are most needed?
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Commercial activity (the provision of goods and services to individuals) is an important part of the vitality of an area. The Neighborhood Plan Guide identifies two optional topics that have been combined for the Oakland Plan process: Commercial Corridors and Notes, and Transit-Oriented Development.
Commercial corridors are streets where there is consistent commercial activity spanning multiple blocks. Commercial nodes are clusters of activities at a specific spot, often the intersection of major streets. In many cases, a commercial node grows outward along major streets to create an entire corridors of activity.
Transit-oriented development (TOD) is deliberately planned higher-density, mixed-use development within walking distance of transit. Well-planned and well-designed TOD attracts residents to neighborhoods and riders to transit stations. When public and private investments work together to create walkable, mixed-use, and mixed-income communities, it creates a fertile environment in which transit service can grow and thrive.
The Port Authority of Allegheny County’s Transit Oriented Communities program includes a best practices for TOD guide.
Note: The COVID-19 pandemic has had considerable impacts on many aspects of normal life in Oakland including nearly all commercial activities. The text below refers to the way Oakland has functioned over the last decade and is likely to function after the pandemic ends.
Accessible design is what makes it all work for everyone.
People of all abilities must be considered when planning and designing new buildings and public spaces. This is particularly true for TOD projects as people with disabilities use transit at a higher rate than the general population. Considerations should be given to people of all ages and abilities with regard to accessing the site, connecting the site to the transit station, and connecting the street network to the transit station. Furthermore, site and building designs should seek to exceed minimum legal requirements and strive to achieve greater accessibility.
In Europe, many cities have begun to focus on designing places and infrastructure around the needs of a single parents with strollers. This standard ensures places are accessible for everyone, include places to rest, and that more vulnerable members of our communities feel safe at all hours.
Oakland’s restaurants, cafés, and entertainment venues are concentrated in three major nodes.
Oakland is a retail destination with retail sales estimated at $247 million annually, $72 million of which is dining. Much of this retail activity is oriented to the universities and therefore clustered around the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University on Fifth and Forbes Avenues. This leaves large portions of the more residential parts of the neighborhood with very few stores and restaurants.
The Boulevard of the Allies has relatively few retail businesses even though the area is highly visible to traffic and past plans for the area have called out the potential for this area to have a mixture of activities including retail. Bringing these kinds of businesses to this area will require a combination of pedestrian improvements, new buildings that support commercial businesses, and more employees and/or residents who will use them.
Neighborhood supporting facilities like convenience stores, markets, and child care facilities are speckled throughout Oakland.
The loss of the student population over the summer months places many stresses on retail businesses and is often considered the main reason that full-service grocery stores have been unable to stay open in Oakland. However, Oakland does have a large number of markets, convenience stores, and specialty market. These businesses are located in small, lower-rent commercial spaces in historic buildings. Current grocery trends nationwide include smaller format specialty stores like those found in Oakland and expanded grocery delivery and pick-up services. Child care facilities are dispersed throughout the neighborhood along major streets but not necessarily in areas where there are significant amounts of other commercial activity. Demand for child care facilities may continue to expand with the growth of Oakland as a job center.
Oakland’s hotels serve many important roles.
Oakland attracts people from many places and for many reasons. In addition to travelers who visit Pittsburgh on business or for pleasure, Oakland’s institutions hold conferences and summits that bring in experts from all over the world. Seasonal student events bring large numbers of parents. UPMC hospitals offer a wide range of unique medical services that draw patients from throughout the country. They and their families often stay in hotels or in longer-term accommodations provided by Family House Pittsburgh which houses over 24,000 patients and families every year. In addition to more traditional accommodations, there is a high number of rentable private rooms listed on Airbnb in Central and South Oakland. More research is needed to understand the role these rentals play in Oakland’s housing and lodgings markets vs. potential uses for parties and events which are common to Airbnb rentals throughout the country and a common nuisance for neighborhoods.
Oakland’s cultural institutions are a major draw for visitors.
Oakland’s role as a civic center with major cultural institutions means that visitors are a significant presence in the neighborhood. In total, attractions in Oakland admit approximately 1.8 million visitors a year.
Housing is becoming an important part of Oakland’s corridors and nodes.
Housing is most dense in Central and South Oakland. For Central Oakland, housing is still within a few blocks of Fifth and Forbes Avenues where there is excellent transit service and commercial services making it a very walkable and vibrant place to live. For South Oakland, Boulevard of the Allies has fewer bus lines and less commercial activity. In some ways, South Oakland has become less transit-oriented over time.
In the last decade, institutional shuttle buses have replaced public transit for students and employees. The result is fewer riders on buses and therefore fewer buses. Undoing this trend will require rethinking of the impact of shuttles and their role here just as much as what kinds of structures are built.
Elements of successful transit-oriented development
Well-planned and well-designed Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) attracts residents to neighborhoods and riders to transit stations. When public and private investments work together to create walkable, mixed-use, and mixed-income communities, it creates a fertile environment in which transit service can grow and thrive. Explore this diagram adapted from the Port Authority's Transit-Oriented Development Guidelines to learn about the features of well designed transit areas. Oakland has many locations that have some of these elements, but very few places where all four are present.