There are a lot of reasons to put my hometown of Pittsburgh on your radar, not the least of which is the small neighborhood of Braddock. When the American steel industry collapsed in the 80s, most of ‘The Burgh’ was quick to rebrand as a modern hub for higher education, the arts, and cutting edge medical research. Braddock however, home to Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill, wasn’t so lucky.
Over the past three decades, the town has lost 90% of it’s residents and 90% of it’s buildings. Besieged by drugs and gangs, Braddock was scheduled for demolition to make room for an expressway until mayor John Fetterman rallied support of the community with a radical idea that eventually became the town’s philosophy on rebuilding: reinvention is the only option.
What’s followed is a litmus test for struggling American towns and cities. The past 10 years have seen the restoration of The First Presbyterian Church as a vibrant community center, a ten-acre urban farm in the center of town, and several attractive mixed-use developments. New development is slowly popping up all over Braddock Avenue, reclaiming the historic buildings that are left and breaking ground on new projects in abandoned lots.
While media outlets have been quick to throw around references to Portland and Brooklyn, Braddock is still what seems like light years away from artisanal mayonnaise shops and vegan haberdasheries. While the early adopters do include a high end restaurant and craft brewery, perhaps the most interesting part of Braddock’s slow resurgence is the anti-gentrification stance of the movers and shakers there. The town rises solely because of the community, not in spite of it.