John Fetterman is the hulking, tattooed and impassioned mayor of Braddock, PA, a tiny town ten miles from downtown Pittsburgh. Braddock was built around the steel industry: vintage pictures show a thriving downtown area boasting 30 tailors, 5 banks, 51 barbers in their community. Over the last few decades, the town has imploded and now none a single one of those businesses remain.
The town is incredibly depressed: the median price of a home is $5200 and the average annual salary is $17,500.
What can be done to stabilize a community that’s lost 90% of its population and rebuild successful community? Fetterman chose to focus on the community that remains. Under his leadership, the town has focused its efforts on youth employment, opening playgrounds, and bringing green spaces and arts back into the area. Urban agriculture is helping to green up public spaces and his team has worked to introduce neighborhood artwork and re-purpose abandoned homes into foster care facilities.
Regular Braddock Block Parties have a strong community flavor; often bringing families together for holidays since so many can’t afford to celebrate at home. One popular event is arm-wrestling: if you can beat the Mayor, you win his paycheck! And new businesses have opened in town, such as the Transformazium, a collective art show and Fossil Free Fuel, which converts cars to biodiesel and offers a training program in how to do so.
Fetterman states that when he took over in 2006, 5-6 homicides a year were being committed in a community of less than 3,000 people. There’s been no murders in the past 18 months and crime overall is going down.
Fetterman was shocked to learn just days ago that he was on the cover of the Atlantic; that same week he learned that Braddock’s biggest employer was shutting down, which is going to devastate the town on many levels. An emotional Feteterman said he was not sure what the future of Braddock holds. Something tells me he will continue to fight to make it brighter for the people who live there and in doing so, set an example for many similarly decimated towns across the country.