By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — Lawrenceville is arguably the hottest neighborhood in Pittsburgh, with hip restaurants, buzzing nightlife, and new apartment complexes and condos.
But the neighborhood isn’t without problems — gentrification, high housing costs, few grocers — and those aren’t the only issues affecting the area. For some Lawrenceville residents, particularly young families, there is “The Lawrenceville Problem.”
Andrea Weinstein and her husband live in Central Lawrenceville with their 3-year-old daughter. Weinstein is from Chicago and her husband is from Albuquerque.
The couple moved to Pittsburgh from the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009 to study at the University of Pittsburgh and have since decided to set down roots in the Steel City, purchasing a house in the popular East End neighborhood. Weinstein recognizes the role of families like hers in gentrifying neighborhoods, but also wants to stay and become an integral part of Lawrenceville, instead of just leaving the city to put her daughter in a suburban public school.
“People come here, they have a kid and then within a year, they move,” she said. “Some of us call it ‘The Lawrenceville Problem.’”
This phenomenon isn’t unique to Lawrenceville; it’s something that has been affecting American cities and urban school districts for decades. “White flight” of the 1960s saw mostly white families decamp cities to establish well-to-do suburbs, helped along by discriminatory housing practices in their favor. This led to a cascading effect of disinvestment and population loss in urban America.
That trend has begun to turnaround in many urban areas, with some cities, including Pittsburgh, now attracting new residents and investment. But that hasn’t yet translated to the growth of city school districts, including Pittsburgh Public Schools. Cities like Pittsburgh are also failing to retain many of their young families and people of color, who are either intentionally leaving or being displaced to the suburbs.
On Feb. 1, the Pittsburgh Public Schools unveiled a proposal to close and consolidate several school buildings in an effort to close a $39.4 million budget deficit. After instantaneous blowback, the school board shelved that plan, but to many PPS parents who spoke to Pittsburgh City Paper, the proposal itself made them uneasy and pessimistic about the school district’s future.
Parents are now calling for better communication from the school district, and are asking for a better plan to address current budget problems and to lay out a potentially brighter future for the urban school district.
Besieged by headlines portraying dysfunction within the school district and arguments with city officials, the district says failure to pass a property tax increase put the administration in a tough spot financially, and the pandemic has made everything more difficult.
Weinstein and other parents are all proponents and cheerleaders for urban public schools like PPS, but also recognize that, for the city and the entire region to succeed, the district must thrive and move beyond the perception that it is always failing and has a bleak future. They say keeping young families and people of color within the city is integral to ensuring that Pittsburgh succeeds.