Reviving a Hardscrabble Steel Town

Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock, PA struggles with the challenges of reviving a former steel town that has lost 90% of its peak population.
December 30, 2008, 1pm PST | HeyCheryl
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Mayor Fetterman was asked about how he hoped to get his town back on its feet.

'We've been taking a two-pronged approach,"'Fetterman says to answer this question. 'On one hand we have to make improvements in providing functional services and urban space for the existing resident base. When I took office, Braddock had no basketball court. No parks. No place to even walk your dog, except the street.'

Given such a lack of the basic amenities of urban life, the first three years of his term have seen some quick progress. Fetterman ticks off the accomplishments as he drives by them on another impromptu tour of town: Braddock's first basketball courts have been constructed, and its functional green space increased substantially with abandoned lots renovated into parks and gardens. A community-supported agriculture project called Pittsburgh Grow now operates an urban farm under the bridge into town.

Good intentions and hard work only go so far without resources. Fetterman points out, 'Braddock is an Act 47 community.' The term refers to the Pennsylvania legislature's provisions for municipalities (many of them old steel towns like this one) that no longer have the tax base to support themselves. He describes the facts of life for a long-bankrupt town with a disarming lack of spin: 'We wouldn't even have money for 911 service here, if we didn't get a grant for it from the state.'"

Thanks to Nick Gurich

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Published on Friday, December 19, 2008 in Monthly Review
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