Pittsburgh by Numbers: Population, Square Mileage and More

Pittsburgh skyline from North shore
••• HDRExposed - Dave DiCello Photography / Getty Images

Many people consider Pittsburgh as one of the larger American cities in terms of population and are surprised to learn that it doesn't even make the top 50. According to U.S. Census data from 2010, Pittsburgh ranks well below cities most people believe are smaller including Cleveland, Columbus, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, Tulsa, Anaheim and even Witchita, Kansas.

Pittsburgh is currently America's 56th largest city, down from 8th in 1910.

Nearby Columbus, OH, in contrast, is ranked at #15. Pittsburgh has lost almost half of its population since its heyday in the early 20th century, but then so have many other cities as people chose to move out to the suburbs. However, you would be surprised to learn that Pittsburgh is still more densely populated than five of the top 10 cities in the country at 281,000. 

Facts & Figures

The biggest reason that Pittsburgh appears to be shrinking while other cities -- such as Houston, Phoenix, and San Diego -- are enjoying a population boom is that its city boundaries remain virtually unchanged from horse and buggy days, while the Sun Belt cities are continuing to annex their suburbs.  Houston went from 17 square miles in 1910 to 579 square miles in 2000. Phoenix now consumes more than 27 times the area reported in 1950, and San Diego has more than tripled in size in the same time period. Pittsburgh, in contrast, hasn't expanded its city boundaries since annexing Allegheny City (now the North Side) in 1907.

The average city included in America's Top 10 is 340 square miles, more than six times the geographic size of Pittsburgh, at 56 square miles. Those mega-metropolises have spread out and swallowed their suburbs, broadening the city tax base to include as many people as they can. San Diego, the smallest of the 10 cities is nearly the size of Allegheny County (which, incidentally, ranks at #30 among the largest U.S. counties).

The average city included in America's Top 10 is 340 square miles, more than six times the geographic size of Pittsburgh, at 56 square miles. Those mega-metropolises have spread out and swallowed their suburbs, broadening the city tax base to include as many people as they can. San Diego, the smallest of the 10 cities is nearly the size of Allegheny County (which, incidentally, ranks at #30 among the largest U.S. counties).

Should the City Limits Expand?

If the Pittsburgh city limits were expanded to cover roughly the same area as any other Top 10 city, it would expand the city's population from roughly 330,000 to more than 1 million, making Pittsburgh the ninth largest city in the country.

The Pittsburgh Urbanized Area (UA), an area defined by the U.S. Census as a city and its suburbs, is ranked #22 in the U.S. in population and #24 in the U.S. in terms of land area or sprawl (181.7 square miles). Then there is the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (an area defined by the Census Bureau as covering the counties of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland). Using that demographic, Pittsburgh ranks #21 in terms of population among U.S. cities.

Basically, they're all just numbers.

In terms of population living in the greater Pittsburgh area, the city probably ranks somewhere in the top 20. Pittsburgh is a large American city, with a downtown that is small enough to easily walk from one end to the other. It has all of the arts, culture, and amenities that you would expect from a big city, with the heart, charm and feel of a much smaller one. Fred Rogers once called Pittsburgh one of America's "biggest small towns." Welcome to the neighborhood.