Factory of dreams

I seem to have a strange fascination with local economic development. I’m not an economist. I’m not a politican. I just want the community that I live in to be vibrant, safe and offer opportunity.

I have been following Fortune’s coverage of activities in Detroit. David Whitford wrote a piece about the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit. It reminds of the great work being done in Toronto at 401 Richmond and 215 Spadina by the Urban Space Property Group. And 720 Bathurst now that the Centre for Social Innovation has purchased a building. While the challenges in Toronto were never as large as New York City in the 1970s or Detroit now, I was just shocked listening about the state of a suburb in Pittsburgh.

“We are not a poor town, we are experimental because we’re not a town that’s down on it’s luck” – John Fetterma

John Fetterman, talked about his challenges as the Mayor of Braddock, PA at PopTech 2009. I went to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University and I remember some of the communities. I was fortunate to live in Squirrel Hill, but I remember the first night I spent in Pittsburgh in 1996. But I am more shocked by the economic conditions encountered in Braddock including .

I was just shocked at some of the data:

  • 90% of the population has moved away
  • 90% of the buildings in the community have been lost
  • Median price of a home: US$5,250
  • Median household income: US$17,518

I’m curious about the ongoing impact of the closure of UPMC Braddock post January 31, 2010. This is a story to follow.

10 thoughts on “Factory of dreams”

  1. Some of the work that Woody Tasch / Slow Money Alliance is doing feels like it is connected – http://bmann.ca/loaves-from-the-local-baker-vs-

    It is up to us to support and build our local environments. Moving somewhere else isn't going to fix it, every place, locality, jurisdiction, and regulatory environment has its own issues.

    It feels like shared ownership models — where I can “help” and get something back in a more direct form, a la co-operatives — is part of the mix.

  2. Just on your data: 90% of the population has moved away since the 1940s. The real crash happened because the middle class left Braddock. This is a similar story to every city in the nation. The question is then what happened afterwords. It's been 70 years of destruction.

    The impact? Old people don't get necessarily services and die sooner. Young poor people are taught that you can't mobilize against capitalism. The town further is divided between the youth and the elders and more people continue to fall into apathy. People keep buying codein instead of food except now there's no detox facilities. Over 10,000 emergency room visits haven't happened since the closure. Ten thousand. What happens when people don't goto the hospital? They die. That's what the impact is. More people will die but it will never be blamed on UPMC. It will be blamed on that person's “risky behavior.”

  3. Hi Brett,

    Thanks for the data correction. The timeframe is incredibly short for the change in demographics of a suburban centre so close to a major hub. I think that we see frontier towns and mining encampments that have a much shorter decline when a railroad moved or a employer shut down ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_town ).

    I unfortunately do not have the passion, the experience or the knowledge of the local issues. When I lived in Pittsburgh which was almost 15 years ago, I lived on the border of Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. Not the least bit representative of the challenges happening in Braddock. The impact of UPMC's decision to withdraw will be one of people's lives, which is disappoint and speaks to how health and healthcare in the US needs to be re-imagined.

    Health, safety and opportunity are crucial. I hope that there are economic development strategies that can be engaged to attract new businesses and residents and sustain the taxation base.

  4. I spent some time with the Enterprise Toronto folks yesterday talking about the power of grassroots connections. And how to use the tools to improve the opportunities for small businesses and citizens in Toronto. I just can't fathom the level of decline and lack of support in Braddock.

    How do you attract employers to set up shop? Beyond the token advertising campaigns that @banditelli describes from Levi's? This is so far out of my league. Safety, security, house availability. How do you avoid creating a mining town or ghost town when the main employer leaves?

  5. Since you lived in Shadyside you probably drove through East Liberty. Look at Braddock as a smaller worse off East Liberty. Back when you lived here there was a ton of outside investment into cleaning up east liberty. It's still bad, but it's alot better than Braddock.

    The Mon Valley expressway(google it) had more to do with people leaving than any de-industrialization. Some point soon(my braddock historian is on vaca lol) I should make a map showing how the population moved. They didn't move far- most moved within 15 mile's I'd say(no data behind this, just knowing people and basing it on high school graduation lists I worked with on the campaign)

    1. I remember Sliberty very well, and the politics and campaigns about the reinvestment in both East Liberty and in the Hill District. I think the lawsuits and publicity of charges against the Pittsburgh Police Department may have help raised the level of conversation and investment in both East Liberty and the Hill District.

      In a way, Braddock reminds me of the conversations I’ve been reading about African development, i.e., how do we move to sustainable economic advantage and not aid and corruption?

      I suspect that you’re correct about the regionality of the moves, i.e., people relocating in places surrounding Braddock because of better opportunities, nicer/safer homes, and better services that are only a neighbourhood away.

  6. I remember Sliberty. I suspect that the lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Police Department and the surrounding publicity helped to raise the awareness and desire to improve the investment in both East Liberty and the Hill District. However, they probably failed to address many of the underlying social problems that have prevented this from looking a lot like aid to third world nations (where reliance and corruption often take over – see http://davidcrow.ca/article/7551/the-fortunate-… )

    I suspect that you're 100% about the relocation of Braddock residents to the surrounding communities. They may have moved to be closer to employment, different schools, increase services. Not sure I get the Mon Valley argument given the location of Braddock, but again my knowledge and experience in Pittsburgh is very limited. When I look even just the relocation to Mt. Lebanon or Upper St. Clair or McKeesport or Monroeville, there are lots of locations/neighbourhood that are extremely close.

  7. I wasn't around then so you're probably right about East Lib/The hill. Violence has been reduced in Braddock(there's conflicting reasons why) but the drug problem still exists. They're still investing in east liberty. It'll never be shady side but at least it's not dead.

    Like I said below tho, there's no central plan for the region. There's community groups and activists and then theres politicians looking to further their career. I guess you see that everywhere eh?

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