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Increase In Asian Population Is Changing Region Culturally, Economically

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- On the campuses of Carnegie Mellon and Pitt, on the streets of Squirrel Hill and throughout the city and Allegheny County, people from China and Taiwan are discovering Pittsburgh as a place to study and work.

"I see a lot of change, a lot of Asian people, Chinese. They come here, eat, shopping, stuff like that," said Tom Ng, of Squirrel Hill.

The rise has been dramatic. The Asian population in the city has increased by 28 percent over the past four years. Many are young professionals or students from well-to-do families drawn to our prestigious universities.

"I study computer science in my undergraduate studies," said Ren Zuo, of Bejing, China.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan: "Carnegie Mellon the place, right."

Zuo: "Yes, that's the place."

It's a major shift in our ethnic population. This increase in the Asian population has been offset by a decline in the African-American population, which fell by 6 percent over the same time period.

"I think it's not racial. I think it's economic. What you've seen is an influx of higher income individuals and an exodus of lower income individuals," said Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess.

Rents and real estate values in the city have doubled and tripled over the past decade in some city neighborhoods. While Chinese nationals have been buying houses in the city's East End or renting in luxury apartment houses, Burgess says many blacks have been priced out of the city.

"They're leaving the city quite simply because there's a lack of affordable housing," Burgess said.

But, in Squirrel Hill, where Asians now make up 17 percent of the population, Chinese nationals have been an economic shot in the arm.

There are now 34 Asian-owned and operated businesses in the neighborhood, including Everyday Noodles, which serves authentic dumplings and noodles that are a draw for both native Chinese and American foodies.

"I think there's always room for people to bring something specialty, something different, something more tradition[al], and introduce to the consumer," said Mike Chen, the owner of Everyday Noodles.

When Chen moved here from Los Angeles 33 years ago, there were very few Asians in the city, but he says this new influx will be a welcome change in the Pittsburgh -- both economically and culturally.

"A lot of the young professional kids want to stay in Pittsburgh, so we got a job for you and they stay here. So, I think it's a good thing," he said.

While the general city population is pretty much flat, Asians account for an ever-growing percentage. Pitt economist Chris Breim says they soon may change the cultural identity of Pittsburgh.

"The bottom line is, the city population would still be declining if not for the growth of the Asian population right now," Breim says. "If you were to project that out, this would have a big impact on the city going forward."

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