By Jamie Wiggan
Preliminary data from the 2020 census shows an uneven range of growth and shrinkage across Allegheny County’s northwestern communities.
While suburban areas like Robinson and Kennedy townships witnessed soaring population growth between 2010 and 2020, industrial urban centers like Stowe, McKees Rocks and Coraopolis underwent stagnation or slow decline.
Increasing by 2.2% as a whole, Allegheny County posted modest growth for the first time in several decades.
Frank Piccolino, manager at Robinson, believes the town’s location is responsible for luring in more than 2,000 people (16% of its total population) during the past decade.
“The biggest thing we’ve got going is, basically, you don’t need to leave Robinson,” he said. “You can live in Robinson, work in Robinson, shop in Robinson without ever having to leave.”
To accommodate the new arrivals, multiple land parcels have recently been turned into residential developments, and Piccolino said there are no signs of things slowing down. Development is underway at sites on Clever Road and Forest Grove and the township has other prospects under consideration.
“Developers are still calling us,” Piccolino said.
Bordering Robinson to the south and east, suburban Kennedy Township also grew rapidly during the last 10 years, adding about 1,100 people or 13.4% of its population.
Mel Weinstein, treasurer and interim manager, said Kennedy offers a combination of affordability and living quality that’s attracting middle-class families to the bedroom community.
“What Kennedy offers is that value of being not too expensive,” he said. “If you go elsewhere you’ll see prices skyrocketing.”
Weinstein pointed to the 43 homes that sold within a year at the newly-constructed Kennedy Pines housing development as an indication of the demand to live in the township.
He said the township office meanwhile receives daily calls from people interested in reserving a place in the 120-unit apartment complex under construction at the Kennedy Center.
“It is a good, well-rounded, well-protected community,” Weinstein said. “People are dying to live in Kennedy.”
Older industrial towns west of Pittsburgh have not been swept up in the winds of growth that have carried along their suburban neighbors during the last decade.
McKees Rocks (-3%) and Coraopolis (-2.1%) both lost people according to the latest census data, while Stowe (+1%) gained a small handful.
Archie Brinza, president of McKees Rocks council, said he believes the town’s reputation for crime and violence is turning people away and preventing growth and revitalization.
McKees Rocks lost 3% of its population during the past decade, according to census data.
“If you’re looking for a house today, and you hear on Monday morning somebody got shot, is that appealing to you?” He said in an interview just days after a Sto-Rox High School student was shot dead on the way home from school.
“We gotta stop the violence.”
Brinza said the borough has taken steps to tackle crime by hiring two more officers this year but believes efforts need to be more wide-reaching.
One example, he said, is a partnership underway between the borough and several private and non-profit stakeholders aiming to revitalize run-down properties and offer them to interested buyers at an affordable price.
Brinza said he hopes this effort – kickstarted by a $1 million grant – can draw in new residents who want to invest in the community.
“We’re trying to get people to buy these homes,” he said.
“There are good people here. We have to sell them. It’s a hard sell when you’ve got people getting shot every day.”