If you visit Chris Shelton’s Stanton Heights home, you’ll be greeted by Rufus, a 2-year-old Boston terrier who springs so high into the air that he must be part kangaroo.
It was through Rufus and his need for walks that Shelton and his husband Shawn Howering began to recognize the diversity of the neighborhood shortly after buying their home in 2014. For an interracial gay couple, it was yet another plus on top of their home’s spacious backyard and three-tiered garden.
Shelton, an operations engineer at American Eagle Outfitters, said the diversity makes it feel like you’re not isolated.
“Because if you’re the only Black person in a predominantly White neighborhood, you kind of feel it…or if you’re the only White person in an entirely Black neighborhood, it’s easy to feel a little out of place,” he said. “But when I’m walking my dog and I see a White person here, a Black person there, you feel like you’re just one of the neighbors…and in that respect, it takes a little something off your mind.”
As PublicSource mapped the diversity of Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods and spoke with residents, we found that not every diverse community was a healthy community.
That sent us on a search for the most diverse and integrated neighborhoods that also have aspects of what everyone is looking for in a community: safety, good schools and affordability.
The four neighborhoods that stood out were: Stanton Heights, Highland Park, Point Breeze North and Windgap.
Stanton Heights is a rarity among Pittsburgh neighborhoods because it has about as many White residents as Black residents. It consistently has one of the lowest crime rates in the city with property values that are affordable to middle-class workers ($100,000-$200,000). While it lacks a business district, it is up the hill from Lawrenceville and a short drive to East Liberty and Shadyside.
Highland Park, which is tucked into the same northeastern part of the city as Stanton Heights, has higher property values and a greater proportion of White residents compared to Black residents, but is still just as diverse because more residents of other races and ethnicities live there.
Point Breeze North, in between Point Breeze and Homewood, has a mix of large houses, warehouses and businesses such as Construction Junction, the East End Food Co-op and the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. On the western edge of Pittsburgh, Windgap stands out as a city neighborhood with a large Black population and low poverty.
Everyone we talked to in Stanton Heights agreed that it’s a fairly unknown neighborhood, even for some real estate agents. Nettie Henning, a retiree who has lived in the neighborhood with her husband Donald since 1989, recalled the day a real estate agent a couple doors down needed to use her phone. “I never even knew this neighborhood existed,” the agent told Henning. “She said, it’s so quiet,” Henning recounted.
Jessica Varone, president of the Stanton Heights Neighborhood Association, said she and her husband Dave Matlin don’t mind the neighborhood’s quiet 1950s suburban feel. She said they wouldn’t want to be crammed into a Lawrenceville rowhouse.
Pointing to their neighbors’ houses, Varone talked about why it matters to live in a diverse place.
“I only know my own life experience and it’s completely different than the neighbors next door or these neighbors next door and I wouldn’t know as much about the world without talking to them,” she said.
As for Shelton, he made two benches for the backyard, plans to put a pergola in the side yard and has repainted almost every room in the house from “builder’s beige.”
The neighborhood and the house are a big part of their aspirations as a family. For now, Rufus is their “training child” as the couple shores up their financial future.
“Well, it would be nice at some point to adopt a child. We’ve got three bedrooms more or less for that foreseeable future,” Shelton said. “There’s lots of room for them to run around and play and there’s a good school right up the street. I could see us having a nice happy family here.”