A borough alive, then, in Pittsburgh’s shadow. Braddock circa 1875 was home to Carnegie’s first steel mill, the Edgar Thomson Works. It was home to the country’s first Carnegie Library, opened in 1889. In the 1920s, the population was 20,000+.
A place gone, now, notable for being among the first to go. According to John Fetterman, the borough’s mayor, Braddock 2008 “has lost 90% of everything it once was and remains in a rapidly deteriorating state of disrepair.” Allegheny County’s poorest community also has the highest asthma rate in the region, maybe the country. Less than 3,000 residents remained in 2000, a drop of 70%. Police officers starting pay: $8.12 an hour, no benefits. The mayor’s take-home: $110.22 per month.
A voice plainspeaking. John: Braddock is “gentrification proof . . . We’re making the most of the hand that we’ve been dealt. . . How do you create something sustainable within a community that is not? . . . If the architecture is in place, the community can come back.” When asked what success in Braddock looks like, Fetterman is not interested in “success or failure . . . [Braddock] is a work in progress with certain milestones . . . the only metric [is to reduce] the number of homicides to zero as a way to measure improvement in quality of life.”
A new vocabulary. Malignant beauty. Family Dollar moms. Get Whatever You Can Moms. Destruction Breeds Creation. Create Amidst Destruction.
A life, alive, again. Braddock, October 2008, Distress Too Tour. John gives us a walk.
12:50 PM (from my camera’s timer). An urban garden. Three acres nurtured by Grow Pittsburgh. As stated by Miriam Manion, the executive director of Grow Pittsburgh, “If you can green Braddock, you can green anywhere.”
12:55. A smaller urban garden.
1:06. Artist live/work spaces. Conversion of St. Michael’s Catholic School and the Ohringer Building. Artist spaces, a 2700-square-foot flexible space, and the city’s only gallery now downtown.
1:11. A bread-baking oven. Conceived by Ray as a wood-fired oven shared by the public. Recycled brick, cinder block, leftover stones . . . materials destined for the landfill, now producing herb-spiced breads and pizzas, hosting open-air book readings.
1:13. An orchard. Thirty-eight trees in a grove planted by the Regent Square Civic Association, Fall 2007. Intended to “reinforce the impression that this is a neighborhood where people live.”
1:16. A house. Formerly a 2-story car dealership, complete with concrete ramp for cars. Think Le Corbusier. Think Villa Savoye. The owner, Fetterman’s sister, is scraping plaster off a wall.
1:36. A mosaic. “The Pond” by local sculptor James Simon, 2008. Assisted by local teenagers (including Brittany, 14, Jason, 15, and Cameesha, 17) employed by the Braddock Youth Project.
1:41. A downtown life. John’s home. A warehouse conversion, $2,000 purchase price, with extra living space on the roof in two shipping containers, final conversion price = $30,000.
It takes less than one hour to appreciate this approach, the smallness, the nearness, the connectedness.
Wes, leaving: “John, we’re energized by what’s happening here. What do you need help with? What would you like us to work on?”
John, staying: “I’m not in a position to ask anyone to do anything. You tell me what you want to do, what you think needs to happen, and we can probably help you make that happen.”
Asking myself, what should be done in a place where a mosaic, a grove, an oven are the answers, the solutions? Can I think this small? Act this small? Wondering, how to get involved? Remembering the recent questions/insights to me about the “scalability” of onesmallproject and how I fight that urge, resist that opportunity to get bigger, to replicate in one place what “worked” in another place, not wanting to float among places and lives with a toolkit of solutions. No desire to be that “professional” and “successful.” Still . . . why not another oven?
For more: First Name Basis (Part 1) @ Design-Altruism-Project
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